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Top 5 Treasure-Laden Salvaged Shipwrecks

At American Underwater Services, we specialize in commercial diving services. Marine salvage is one of our areas of expertise. The majority of the vessels we’ve recovered from the depths of the ocean or lakes are commercial or personal pleasure craft.

For this blog post though, we’re going to have some fun and look at the top five treasure-laden shipwrecks that have been salvaged over the past few decades. These include pirate ships, Spanish treasure galleons, and 19th-century sidewheel steamer.

British Treasury Ship

In 1941, a German U-boat sank the S.S. Gairsoppa with a single torpedo hit to her hull. She was built in 1919 and repurposed as a cargo transport ship during the Second World War. In those days, ships traveled in convoys, usually headed up by a military vessel that was intended to protect their precious cargo.

On the day she was sunk, the S.S. Gairsoppa carried a cargo of silver bullion that was estimated to be worth $194 million in today’s money. In 2011, the U.K. Government Department of Transport put out a contract, and a marine salvage company won the rights to retrieve the cargo. Under the terms of the agreement, the U.K. government would retain 20% of all pieces salvaged, with the rest going to the salvage company.

S.S. Central American

In September of 1857, the S.S. Central American, a sidewheel steamer, had just left the Panamanian port of Colon when she encountered a Category 2 hurricane.
Onboard the ship was over 10 tons of gold that was mined during the California Gold Rush.

Over the next 24 hours, winds over 105 mph battered and tore her sails while water started to pour in her hull. To complicate things even further, her boiler was looking like it was about to fail. Over the next few hours, passengers tried desperately to fight a losing battle against the seawater pouring in. She finally sank at 8 pm that evening.

The S.S. Central American was relocated in 1988, and the gold was recovered. Its worth was an estimated 100-150 million dollars. Over 39 insurance companies filed lawsuits, and after a long legal battle, 92% of the gold was awarded to the salvage company.

The Whydah

The Whydah is the only pirate ship that’s ever been scientifically identified and salvaged. It was the flagship of notorious pirate captain “Black Sam” Bellamy. The boat itself has a long and storied history.

It was first built as a passenger ship, then ran cargo, and finally slaves from Africa. On the return journey of her maiden voyage as a slave ship, Black Sam captured the boat, and thus began her long and storied history as a pirate ship.

On April 26th, 1717, she encountered a massive storm and sank to the bottom just off Cape Cod in Massachusetts. Black Sam perished, and that was the end of it, at least for 260 years. In 1984, treasure hunters finally found her and retrieved over 400 million dollars of treasure and thousands of artifacts. The ship even has a museum dedicated to her, which exhibits some of the recovered goods.

The Atocha

Nuestra Señora de Atocha was a Spanish treasure ship laden with jewels, silver, copper, gold, and indigo. She was on her way back to Spain when she sank off the Florida Keys in 1622. This ship was remarkable because it took two full months to load and document its entire cargo before embarking on the return voyage to Europe.

After a 17-year hunt, Mel Fisher, a famous treasure hunter, finally located the wreck in 1985. He and his crew pulled up over 450 million dollars’ worth of treasure from the bottom along with thousands of artifacts. The Guinness Book of World Records crowned the Nuestra Señora de Atocha as the most valuable shipwreck ever found at that time.

Black Swan Project

Treasure hunting and salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration located a sunken Spanish frigate called the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes. Odyssey kept the origin of the treasure confidential by giving it the name “Black Swan Project.” However, they couldn’t keep the recovery a secret, and the Spanish government soon found out and sued the salvage company.

After a five-year legal battle that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, Odyssey Marine was ordered to return the recovered treasure to Spain. However, the company did not leave empty-handed. Odyssey was granted 80% of the fair market value of any artifacts they found or sold from the treasure. Although they did not receive the entire $500 million value of the treasure, Odyssey still profited from this endeavor despite ultimately having to relinquish the artifacts themselves.

Marine Salvage Company

American Underwater Services is a nationwide commercial diving business offering marine salvage services as part of our portfolio of services. No matter the size or scale of your underwater challenge, our team of skilled divers are equipped to tackle it with precision and expertise. Give us a call at (817) 377-8512 or contact us here to learn more about our commercial diving and boat salvage services.



Anthony Di Iulio the founder, president and co-owner of American Underwater Services, Inc., started his business in 1999 with only three employees. Today this commercial diving company employs nearly 30 people and handles over 500 projects annually. Anthony moved to Fort Worth from Louisiana with his family in 1976. He worked summers during high school welding underwater for a marina on Benbrook Lake. Eventually he took scuba lessons after almost drowning on the job. Those lessons led him to training at a deep sea diving school in Houston, which included training on offshore oil rigs. Anthony spent several years in Louisiana working on offshore rigs and on inland jobs at power plants and dams before starting American Underwater Services, Inc.


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