Esmeralda shipwreck

possibly the oldest wreck ever found from Europe’s initial period of colonization in Asia

The Esmeralda shipwreck is one of the earliest shipwrecks from the start of Portugal’s entry into the Arabia Sea.
There can have been few countries whose population exploded around the world as quickly or indeed violently as the Portuguese. From a small insignificant land on the edge of Europe, they swept into East Asia. Leading the charge in many respects was Vasco de Gama who crossed the Arabian Sea in 1498 with 4 small ships landing into the Indian port of Calicut. In 1502 he led the 4th Portuguese fleet into the region, this time with the clear intention to subjugate the coastal populations, largely in retaliation for defeats in previous years and to monopolise trade destined for Europe. His fleet was of 20 ships, indicative of the value of the potential trade as well as the numbers of ships lost during the previous annual sailings from Portugal that made larger numbers of ships essential to achieve success.

Vicente Sodré
Vicente Sodré

After Vasco de Gama returned to Portugal with the main fleet. He commanded 5 ships to remain in the Arabian Sea near the coast of southern India, under the command of his uncle, vice-admiral Vicente Sodré, this included a caravel the Esmeralda.

ESMERALDA
ESMERALDA

Despite this instruction, Vicente Sodré sailed north in search of lone ships to capture. From north-west Indian they crossed to the Gulf of Aden and the lack of success resulted in near mutinies. Coasting along southern Arabia in  April 1503 a fierce storm was predicted while they were at the Al Hallaniyah Islands (Kuria Muria Islands ) off Dhofar. Four of the ships took local advice and anchored on the leeward side of the islands,  Vicente Sodré ignored the warnings and when the storm did arrive his ship, the Esmeralda, was sunk with loss of life including  Vicente Sodré’s who was drowned along with most of its crew.

In 1998 the wreck site was rediscovered by Blue Water Recoveries and today, 15th March 2016, Oman’s Ministry of Heritage and Culture released information about what is now believed to be the earliest wreck ever found from Europe’s Age of Exploration during its initial conquest of the seas east of Africa. Included in the finds have been pottery and breech chambers from canon, the canon themselves having been salvaged immediately after the wreck.

Author: Tony Walsh

Book author including the current Bradt guide to Oman – edition 4