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Hunt for 17th Century Shipwreck Carrying $5 Billion of Gold Off the UK Coast

A 400-year-old Shipwreck believed to be carrying £4bn worth of gold just off the UK coast has a chance of being found.
A 400-year-old Shipwreck believed to be carrying £4bn worth of gold just off the UK coast has a chance of being found. Credit: DirectDish. CC BY 2.0/flickr

A 400-year-old Shipwreck believed to be carrying £4bn ($5bn) worth of gold just off the UK coast has a chance of being found now that renewed efforts are being launched by a UK company.

The Merchant Royal’s shipwreck, also known as the El Dorado of the Seas, sank in 1641 and is thought to be somewhere off the coast of Cornwall. The sunken vessel has been the object of many recovery expeditions over the years, with no success, but now a UK company called Multibeam Services believes it can locate it.

Run by former commercial fisherman and diver Nigel Hodge, with a team of 11, the company specializes in locating lost shipwrecks, and is setting out to try and find the vessel next month.

Hodge plans to spend the remainder of this year searching for the wreck, covering an area of 200 square miles of the English channel. It’s “not a gold rush” though, Hodge told, even though he thinks the shipwreck may be worth billions.

Because of the strict laws on who has ownership of discovered treasure, “the days of people finding a big pile of gold and becoming rich overnight are well and truly gone,” added Hodge, who also said that the attraction for him lies in finding answers, with any precious metals on board set to become heritage artifacts.

The latest technology may help solve the mystery of the missing wreck, with the company owning unmanned underwater vessels worth £3.5 million ($4.4 million), capable of submerging up to 6,000 meters – deeper than the deepest part of the search area – alongside new sonar tech.

Hodge said the mission will be a difficult one, being that the stretch of water where the ship sank is notoriously dangerous.

“There’s thousands of shipwrecks down there and the Merchant Royal is just one of them,” he told “So we’ve got to literally pick through a lot of wrecks as we’re doing them and then identify them. It’s not straightforward. If it was straightforward, it would have been done.”

Headquartered in Redruth and comprising a handful of former fishermen, Hodge believes his company is well placed to ‘bring home the gold’ where others have failed due to its local knowledge and tech advancements.

The Story of the Shipwreck and the Gold

The ship plunged on its way to Dartmouth on September 23, 1641, after a stay in the Spanish port of Cadiz where it was repaired and took on more cargo on its way back from Mexico and the Caribbean.

The modern day Port of Cadiz.
The modern day Port of Cadiz. Credit: Rab. CC BY 2.0/flickr

It was manoeuvring payment for 30,000 soldiers in Flanders, alongside treasures from the ‘New World’ including 400 bars of Mexican silver and 500,000 pieces of eight. A report about the shipwreck from 1641 housed by the British Library says it was carrying “300,000 in ready boliogne and 100,000 pound in gold and as much value in jewels.”

Historians have not come to an agreement on how much treasure could be on board, with some debate around whether the 100,000 pounds of gold meant in currency or weight. At the lowest estimate however, the treasure on board would still be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The cargo, along with 18 crew members, plunged to the bottom of the ocean, but 40 sailors, including the ship’s captain John Limbrey, were rescued by her sister vessel in convoy, the Merchant Dover.

The financial loss at the time was so heavy that proceedings in the House of Commons were stopped to hear the news, and King Charles I said the event was “the greatest loss ever sustained in one ship.”

Despite its being lost for 400 years, the mission to find it was stoked in 2019 after a fishing boat, the Spirited Lady, hauled up an anchor thought to belong to the long-lost vessel.
Multibeam Services has reportedly already discovered lost wrecks, and even found a sunken pirate ship filled with treasure last year.

Hodge’s attempts to locate one of the world’s most elusive and mysterious shipwrecks will be followed by a documentary crew starting next month, which will be hosted by ex-special forces and commando Jason Fox.

“Some will say it’s a needle in a haystack,” Hodge told “I wouldn’t say it’s quite that but it is a large area and we’ve got the elements to deal with. We need to wait for certain conditions to be able to use the equipment.”

The former fishermen’s crew will base themselves on the Isles of Scilly to prevent themselves having to go back and forth from the mainland.

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