500-year-old shipwreck off coast of Oman likely part of Vasco da Gama’s fleet

The finding was made as part of the first underwater excavation carried out by the Arab Gulf country.

A ship whose 500-year-old wreckage was found off the coast of Oman is believed to have been in the command of Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, archaeologists said on Tuesday.

The finding was made as part of the first underwater excavation carried out by the Arab Gulf country.

It comes after a team from the British company Blue Water Recoveries and the Oman ministry of heritage and culture began exploring the site of an early 16th-century Portuguese shipwreck in 2013. The site, located in Al Hallaniyah island’s Ghubbat ar Rahib Bay, was initially discovered in 1998.

The team has since determined that the wreck likely came from Esmerelda, one of two ships lost in a storm during Da Gama's second voyage to India, according to an article published on Tuesday by The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

Esmeralda sank during a storm near Al Hallaniyah island in the Arabian Sea in May 1503, killing Da Gama's uncle, commander Vicente Sodre, and all those aboard.

Among a stone shot, ceramics, a bell and other debris found at the site, divers discovered an incredibly rare silver coin called an Indio, of which only one other is known to exist today, said David L Mearns, the director of Blue Water Recoveries.

The coins were forged in 1499 after Da Gama’s first voyage to India, which helps date the wreckage, he said.

“That was an amazing discovery,” Mr Mearns said. “It was like a thing you read about in a Hollywood story.”

Ayoub Al Busaidi, supervisor of marine archaeology at the Oman Ministry of Heritage and Culture, said the find marked the first underwater excavation carried out by his country.

He said it inspired officials to continue to explore the waters around the sultanate for other finds.

“Oman is now looking at outside archives to read about the relationships and trade between Oman and the outside world,” Mr Al Busaidi said.

* Associated Press