“Today marks the end of a journey that began 200 years ago. Today, La Mercedes’ mission has been completed. If [the crew] were unable to reach their destination, at least the cargo will.” So said Jorge Dezcallar, Spanish ambassador to the United States, in an emotional speech just minutes before two Spanish army planes headed home from Tampa, Florida with 17 tons of coins retrieved from the historical shipwreck.
“Today we are recovering a historical legacy, not a treasure. This is not money, it is our history,” added Dezcallar at the military base where the Hercules aircraft took off, with stops scheduled in New Jersey and the Azores Islands before their landing at Torrejón de Ardoz on Saturday morning.
The frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, part of the Spanish Armada, sank off the coast of Cádiz on October 5, 1804 after sailing from Montevideo in August. The ship was loaded with gold and silver, which ended up at the bottom of the sea, along with 249 seamen. Only around 50 survived.
A US treasure-hunting company called Odyssey Marine Exploration announced the discovery of the haul in May 2007, launching a bitter court battle with Spanish authorities over ownership of the nearly 600,000 valuable coins.