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Peru hopes to raise 2 warships sunk 400 years ago

By Mitra Taj, Reuters

LIMA - Two 400-year-old warships that sank in the Pacific Ocean after being attacked by a Dutch admiral and pirates may once again see land if researchers in Peru successfully raise them.

Metal detectors and magnetometers and memoirs indicate the ships, part of a fleet that defended the Spanish crown when Peru was a colony, are some 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of the capital Lima, investigator and historian Jorge Ortiz said on Monday.

The Santa Ana and the San Francisco, carrying more than 300 men, sunk in 1615 after Dutch naval officer and pirate Joris Van Spilbergen attacked them during the Eighty Years' War between Spain and revolting Dutch subjects. After Peru, Van Spilbergen sailed north and launched attacks in Mexico and later the Philippines.

Ortiz said excavating the ships' remains will offer a glimpse of maritime life in the Viceroyalty of Peru, which once encompassed much of South America. Other boats from that period were destroyed in an earthquake and tsunami in 1746.

Peru's culture ministry and the National Geographic Society are sponsoring the investigations. Ortiz said they will likely turn up fragments of the ships, artillery, ammunition, glass and ceramics - but no sunken treasure.

"No gold, no silver," he said in reference to speculation that the ships carried treasures. "But there will be invaluable clues about our history and culture."

After a series of acrimonious legal battles, Spain successfully claimed the right to a trove of gold coins found in 2007 by a U.S.-based exploration firm off the coast of Portugal. Peru lost its claim to part of the treasure even though the coins were mined and minted in its territory while it was part of the Spanish Empire.