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Divers search for Armada treasure off Mull

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« on: December 08, 2008, 12:26:01 am »

Divers search for Armada treasure off Mull

Paul Kelbie, Scotland Editor The Observer, Sunday December 7 2008 More than 400 years after a Spanish galleon loaded with gold and silver slid beneath the waves in the waters surrounding the Isle of Mull, a new mission has been launched to try to recover its hoard of treasure.

Divers will begin to sift through the silt at the bottom of Tobermory Bay in an attempt to recover the valuable cargo, reputed to have been intended to bankroll the ill-fated Spanish invasion of England in 1588. It is the second time that Sir Torquhil Ian Campbell, the 13th Duke of Argyll, has launched such a mission.

The mystery of where the battle-scarred ship lies has puzzled treasure hunters for centuries. According to local folklore, the vessel - laden with gold, jewels and priceless historical artefacts - is at the bottom of Tobermory Bay. Following the armada's defeat at the hands of Sir Francis Drake, many Spanish ships fled north to escape the English fleet, but became caught up in violent storms. Exactly how the Almirante di Florencia or the San Juan de Sicilia - the vessel's exact identity has never been established - foundered is unknown.

Legend claims that it succumbed to the weather and its own battle damage, or was blown up by a clan chief when the crew tried to leave without paying a substantial levy.

Over the years there have been almost 20 attempts by members of the Campbell family to find the treasure, which, apart from a handful of gold and silver coins, weapons, medals and a few human bones, has eluded searchers. The current Duke, however, refuses to give up and another team of 10 expert divers has begun searching the seabed for the treasure, which is rumoured to be worth more than 30m. The aristocrat's ancestors were granted rights to search for the wreck in 1641 by royal charter granted by Charles I, despite protests from the MacLeans of Mull, who built a fort overlooking the site and threatened to shoot any Campbell who tried.

'Nothing has been found yet, but the investigation is in its very early stages,' said Alison Brockway, a spokeswoman for the Duke of Argyll, whose ancestral home is Inveraray Castle. 'The window of opportunity to do the work is very small because when Tobermory Bay gets busy just after Easter, the divers can't go about their business. It's a painstakingly slow process, but we hope it will be worth it in the end.'

A spokeswoman for Visit Scotland said that Mull had become a 'mecca for divers' in recent years because of the numerous wrecks in the vicinity of the island.
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