Esmeralda shipwreck

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

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 lead 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, 5 ships remained in the Arabian Sea under the command of his uncle, vice-admiral Vicente Sodré, this included a caravel the Esmeralda.


In April 1503 a fierce storm arrived and sank the Esmeralda while at anchor at Al Hallaniyah island off Dhofar in southern Oman. The vice admiral 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

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