Tera Camus / Cape Breton Bureau
Professional treasure hunter Robert MacKinnon of Main-a-Dieu, Cape Breton County, discovered two Spanish ships loaded with treasure in shallow waters off Cape Breton in recent weeks.
Bob MacKinnon, an experienced licensed treasure hunter who sails out of Main-a-Dieu, staked claim Aug. 23 on two 17th-century Spanish ships he discovered in shallow waters either east or northeast of Cape Breton. He refused to divulge the exact location for fear of looters.
Joe Rizzetto, a Sydney lawyer who represents Mr. MacKinnon's group of Canadian, American, Spanish and French investors, said this find rivals a discovery off the coast of Florida several years ago. Gold coins, jewels and other Spanish treasure worth several hundred million dollars US were recovered from that site.
"They know there's treasure there," Mr. Rizzetto said of recent dives by Mr. MacKinnon's crew. "They saw it."
So far, several bronze and cast-iron cannons found on the sea bottom with clearly visible markings have been authenticated by archeologists.
"Early indications show the claimed sites to be rich in both treasure and non-treasure trove artifacts," he said.
Mr. MacKinnon, who preferred to let his lawyer do most of the talking, believes his two historic ships - like thousands that sank near Scaterie Island, off Main-a-Dieu, or a quick sail north, near another well-known ship graveyard, St. Paul Island - were either forced off course by local pirates or caught in a severe storm, possibly a hurricane.
Records from the 1600s show Spanish ships regularly travelled up the U.S. eastern seaboard, then along Nova Scotia's south and northeast coasts as they headed for home via the Azores.
"The most notorious (pirate), being Captain Peter Easton or the Pirate Admiral as he was known, was operating out of several Newfoundland ports between 1605 and 1613," Mr. Rizzetto said.
The dive team, which is planning a costly archaeological reconnaissance mission next year, also believes its finds could be part of a 16-ship Spanish fleet carrying treasure in 1668 that was lost on the voyage home.
The first of the ships that departed Havana, Cuba, that year was lost near Cape May, N.J. In the fall of that same year, other vessels in the fleet were forced to take shelter from a storm in Sydney Harbour, known back then as Spanish Bay.
"It is well-recorded that one of the larger treasure galleons of the fleet was lost in Sydney Harbour proper," Mr. Rizzetto said.
"This vessel parted its moorings in a heavy gale of northeast wind and foundered along the northern shore of the harbour."
Mr. MacKinnon looked for that ship with the assistance of government in the 1970s but was unsuccessful.
According to the provincial Natural Resources Department, Mr. MacKinnon's registered claims - through his company Le Chameau Explorations, named for a 1725 wreck he helped recover artifacts from - are located at several points off Cape Breton.
Three of the claims are off Main-a-Dieu, within five kilometres of Scaterie Island in a place called Man of War Rocks, while two are near St. Paul Island, north of Cape Breton.