The Vasco da Gama shipwreck discovered years ago off the coast Oman is believed to be part of the fleet of 16th century Portuguese. The wreckage was first discovered in 1998 off the coast of Al Hallaniyah Island in the Arabian Sea, but an archaeological excavation to reveal more about the sunken ship has taken place over the last three years, according to FOX News.
Researchers think that what they found is the remains of the Esmeralda, a ship from the famous explorer’s second voyage to India that is believed to have been destroyed in a storm. The artifacts found at the wreck site — including incredibly rare coins — also helped to determine the nationality and date of the wreckage.
“The bay where the site is located was almost a perfect geographical match for where the ships’ [the Esmeralda and the Sao Pedro, another ship in the fleet] wrecked,” the study says.
Prior to locating Vasco da Gama’s shipwreck, explorer David Mearns tried to transport himself back 500 years.
The sky was dark with storm clouds, the sea a raging, surging maelstrom. Two ships, heedlessly anchored on the exposed northern side of the island, were whipped about by the winds and waves, stretching their moorings to the breaking point. Once adrift, the wooden vessels were driven shoreward and bashed against the rocks. One got close enough to the beach for its crew to escape before it broke apart completely. The other splintered and sank in deep water, dragging everyone on board, including its captain, to the bottom of the sea.
Mearns had spent half a year reading accounts of that disaster, which doomed part of a fleet led by the legendary Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama. He’d internalized everything he could find about the weather, the vessels, the island, the perils of the Arabian Sea during the “Golden Age of Exploration” half a milennium ago. And he knew that at least one unparalleled example of a ship from that time lay somewhere within his reach. If only he could find it.
“Our team stood at the top of the island and watched the waves come in, and put themselves in the place of the Portuguese, where they would have anchored and where the storm would have dashed them along the coastline,” Mearns told National Geographic. But the initial search didn’t take much more time than the visualization: “Then they snorkeled around and in 20 minutes started seeing cannonballs that were obviously from a European ship.”
That was in 1998. It would be another decade and a half before Mearns’s shipwreck salvage company, Blue Water Recoveries, returned to conduct a full excavation of the site in partnership with the Ministry of Heritage and Culture in Oman. Pushed around by high-energy wave surges the divers called “the washing machine,” the ship and its riches had been buried deep in sand at the bottom of the sea.
But in the end, Mearns announced Tuesday at a press conference in Muscat, the archaeologists did find what they were looking for. The wreck uncovered off the coast of Al Hallaniyah is almost certainly Vasco da Gama’s shipwreck Esmeralda, which sank with its captain and da Gama’s uncle, the swashbuckling, rapacious Vincente Sodré, on board in 1503.