The Treasure of the Flor de la Mar
When the Flor de la Mar (or âFlower of the Sea’) set sail from Malacca, a commercial hub in the East Indies, one night in November 1511, it is reputed that she was carrying the largest treasure ever assembled by the Portuguese Navy. On the face of it, this was a straightforward journey. After all, the frigate had been successfully sailing the Indian Ocean for nine years and, despite her bulk, was known for her agility. What’s more, her captain the nobleman Alfonso de Albuquerque, was an experienced skipper. As well as being a decorated knight and respected explorer, he was a veteran of runs between the East Indies and his native Portugal. Surely, he could be trusted to deliver the precious cargo to his king?
Along with four other ships, the Flor de la Mar got caught up in a violent storm in the Straits of Malacca, just days after leaving port. On the night of 20 November 1511, it hit the infamous reefs of Sumatra and broke in two. The captain was saved from the waves, though others weren’t so lucky. Several of his crew, as well as a number of slaves he was transporting back to Portugal, were drowned. And, of course, the vast treasure he was carrying, much of it a gift from the King of Siam to his Portuguese counterpart, was lost beneath the waves.
While an exact itinerary has yet to be found, it is believed that the Flor de la Mar was carrying several tonnes of gold, as well as many other precious items. In all, the collection is believed to be worth somewhere in the region of $2,6 billion in today’s terms. It’s hardly surprising, then, that, ever since the ship went under, its whereabouts has been the subject of much fasciation and numerous attempts have been made to locate the doomed vessel and, more importantly, recover its precious cargo.
Frustratingly for treasure hunters, the maps the Portuguese sailors of the time used were far from accurate. As such, the exact location of the shipwreck is the subject of much debate. That’s why several well-financed missions have ended up in failure. But even if a treasure hunter was lucky enough to beat the huge odds and find the right spot of the sea bed, perhaps with the help of underwater drones, it’s unclear who would get to keep the loot. Not only Portugal, but Indonesia and Malaysia too, claim salvage rights for the shipwreck.