A call to Latin American countries, among them Mexico, to form a common front against pillage of submerged material remains, product of maritime activity of the Spanish Empire with its American reigns, was made by Dr. Fernando Serrano Mangas, one of the few experts in Carrera de Indias, the route followed by ships between Spain and America.

During his visit to our country, where he presented 2 conferences, one of them at the National School of Anthropology and History (INAH), the specialist from Universidad de Extremadura, Spain, commented that the initiative, in the form of a declaratory, is possible thanks to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on Protection of Submerged Cultural Heritage.

He mentioned that one of the most ambitious research projects regarding Carrera de Indias is the 14 years-old venture headed by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) named La flota de la Nueva España 1630-1631 (The New Spain Fleet 1630-1631), which has allowed recovery of the shipwreck details of this convoy.

Charged with the riches accumulated during 3 years, the New Spain Fleet wrecked in the Gulf of Mexico when returning in 1631; among its vessels was the admiral ship Nuestra Señora de Juncal, research objective of several specialists.

In its moment, the sinister affected Spain in an economical way. “The fleet that set sail in 1631 from San Juan de Ulua carried the monies of 3 years; prior fleets never weighed anchors, and we must remember that in 1628 the ship that transported Mexican silver to Spain was intercepted by the Dutch”.

“Nuestra Señora del Juncal represents a part of 17th century, bones from the people who died, gold, silver and China. Everything remains in situ and it is information that archaeologists, historians and other experts need, and which could be lost if treasure hunters intervened”.

“I believe that if Juncal ship is found, it will be a before and after in Mexican culture. It will be a shock”, manifested Fernando Serrano.

Pilar Luna Erreguerena, INAH sub director of Submerged Archaeology, remarked that  Mexico ratified the Convention on Protection of Submerged Cultural Heritage 3 years ago, which has become a legal instrument that obligates not to negotiate this legacy.

If Juncal ship is found, cooperation between Mexico and Spain will be important, considering both countries have subscribed the convention valid since January 2009, prioritizing scientific aspects of the finding, which will allow a better understanding of 17th century naval technology, navigation routes and quotidian life, among other aspects.

“We have determined the areas at Campeche Sound where Nuestra Señora del Juncal remains can possibly be found, but they are big extensions. Documental data is not precise, considering what technology such as Global Positioning System (GPS) allows us doing to present”.

Historical Data

Flor Trejo Rivero, coordinator of the historical part of New Spain Fleet Project, rereads documents guarded at General de Indias Archives in Seville, Spain, General de la Nacion, in Mexico City, and at Oficina del Historiador, in Havana, Cuba.

She found that months after the wreck, Viceroy Rodrigo Pacheco y Osorio sent an expedition in search of El Juncal rests, commanded by Martin de Vallecilla. This document opens a new study line on this regard.  

Dr. Serrano Mangas mentioned that 40 years after the accident, an asentista called Diego de Florencia tried to locate Nuestra Señora del Juncal, based on the memoirs of survivors. He did not achieve it; “if he had, it would be found in the document and it is not”.

This and other new data will be included in an optimized version of the book La flota de la Nueva España 1630-1631. Vicisitudes y naufragios (New Spain Fleet 1630-1631. Vicissitudes and Wrecks), to be published by INAH in late 2010.