Treasure hunter Herbert “Herbo” Humphreys has claimed another wreck site at which he and his crew will search for sunken cargo of gold, silver and jewellery.
Captain Humphrey’s company, Marex Gulfstream Ventures, claimed the wreck of the steamship Merida in US federal Admiralty court in Savannah, Georgia last month and plan to start their expedition to retrieve its treasure this summer.
According to reports at the time of the sinking in 1911, the ship had set sail with 17 tons of silver, gold, copper and jewels, said Captain Humphreys, the former owner of Holiday Inn Resort in Grand Cayman, who plans to appoint Caymanian boat captain and treasure hunter Kem Jackson as his chief engineer on the adventure.
Much of the treasure that was thought to be on board the Merida was gold and silver Mexican bullion and coins that 80-year-old president of Mexico Porfirio Diaz was shipping out of the country, as he was about to be overthrown in a revolution.
Several other salvage operations claimed to have found the vessel, which sank off the mouth of Chesapeake Bay along the coast of Virginia. But the only piece of treasure that has ever been recorded as being recovered from it was a single silver ingot found by an Italian salvage outfit in 1939.
Captain Humphreys said videos his divers have shot at the site show that the early expeditions’ explosives had done a lot of their work for them as the wreck site looks like a “junk pile”. But he said it should be easy to remove the pieces with a hydraulic cactus grab.
“There is some conjecture that the silver rolled off the ship as she was sinking, which according to Hank Hudson, who has researched the complete files, may make our work even easier as we might not have to penetrate the actual wreckage,” Captain Humphreys said. “The Merida dropped anchor after the collision so she has not drifted far.” He and his team have the ship’s complete manifest, its ship plans and insurance records, he said.
Treasure hunters have been trying to locate the ship for decades and it was found at a depth of 210 feet, according to Marex COO Tim Hudson.
The ship sank in the early hours of 12 May, 1911, in thick fog after the Mexico-to-New York, via Havana, Cuba, steamer was accidentally rammed by the United Fruit Company chartered steamer Admiral Farragut, which was en route from Philadelphia to Port Antonio, Jamaica.
Everyone aboard the Merida was rescued and its 188 passengers and the 131 crew members were taken aboard the Farragut, although that steamer had suffered a large hole in her port bow. None of the cargo or passenger’s luggage was saved.
The whole dramatic episode was crammed into a terse 61-word wireless sent by the captain of the Merida, Archibald Robertson, who wrote: “Merida and Admiral Farragut in collision at 12:30 o’clock this morning. All passengers and crew trans-shipped to Farragut, except captain, first officer and four men. Merida sank at 5:30 o’clock in 35 fathoms of water. Six men on board went to Farragut in small boat. Passengers now being trans-shipped again from Farragut to Old Dominion liner Hamilton. Will proceed to Norfolk.”
The 6,027-ton Merida was built in Cramps shipyard in Philadelphia in 1906 and was rated a first-class mail and passenger vessel. She was 400 feet long, with a 50.2 feet beam and a hold depth of 17.5 feet. She had three decks fore and aft, was of steel construction with wood sheathing, and had seven watertight bulkheads and two masts, schooner rigged. Her two, three-cylinder triple expansion engines, developing 5,000 horsepower, made her one of the faster ships in service between New York and Havana.
Efforts to try to retrieve the treasure aboard the ship began just weeks after it went down, followed by several other attempts over the years.
Captain Humphreys’ previous wreck finds have included the Spanish Galleon Nuestra Senora de las Maravillas (sank in 1656), the HMS Thunderer (1780), the El Cazador (1784), the Santa Catalina (1550), the Ancona (1917), and the SS North Carolina (1843).