Monday, June 05, 2006

Sunken Galleon Discovered Off Capiz Coast

Last May 6, a Capiceño scuba diver discovered an "ancient-looking vessel" off the coast of Sitio Tabai in Barangay Barra, Roxas City. Ronilo Lorenzo, a seasoned diver and local resident, accidentally spotted the ship while he was diving for seahorses. Roxas City Mayor Tony del Rosario immediately ordered the site secured and the sunken ship salvaged. Mayor Tony Del is quite excited over the possibility that the ship might be a Spanish Galleon. He intends to eventually display the ship at the Roxas City Museum where it can be viewed by the public.

It is, to my knowledge, the first time that a Spanish galleon was discovered in Western Visayas. While news reports about the sunken vessel are still murky, the discovery has sparked the interest of local historians and "Spanish treasure" aficionados. If subsequent investigation by experts should prove that the sunken ship is indeed a galleon, the discovery will create more questions. Since Capiz is not along the usual route of galleons traveling from Manila to Acapulco, what is it doing there?

From 1565 until 1815, galleons sailed once or twice a year from Manila to Acapulco, Mexico. The Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade started when Fray Andres de Urdaneta (who was Miguel Lopez de Legaspi’s pilot) discovered a return route from Cebu to Mexico in 1565. Fray Urdaneta theorized that the Pacific winds moved in a circular motion. He reasoned that if ships sailed far to the north before heading east, he would pick up the trade winds to bring him back west to Mexico. Urdaneta’s hunch paid off and his galleon hit the coast of Cape Mendocino in California. He then just followed the California coast going south to Acapulco.

Most of these galleons were built in the Philippines using Philippine hardwood and Filipino labor. A typical galleon usually weighed 1,700 to 2,000 tons, is 140 to 160 feet long, and can carry a thousand passengers. The Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade ended when Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, after which the Spanish crown took direct control of the Philippines.

It is interesting to note that during this period (1565-1815), most of the so-called “Spaniards” in the Philippines were actually of Mexican descent. This is so because sea travel from Spain to the Philippines was very difficult before the advent of steam navigation and the opening of the Suez Canal.

Anyways, the discovery of the sunken galleon off the coast of Capiz is quite puzzling because it is not along the route of the galleons traveling from Manila to Mexico. The Spanish galleons usually set sail from the port of Manila and then make a brief stop-over in Taytay, Palawan before heading off to open sea. I visited Taytay, a sleepy town in northern Palawan, several years back and indeed there was a small but beautiful Spanish fort there. Locals there say that crewmen of Spanish galleons used to purchase last-minute provisions for their long four-month voyage across the Pacific Ocean to Mexico. Once in a while, it is said that local fishermen would find old coins and artifacts in the area surrounding the old Spanish fort.

Going back to the “Capiz galleon,” one is led to assume that it might have been blown off-course by a typhoon (which hits the Philippines regularly). It may also be that the sunken ship is not really a Spanish galleon but a Chinese junk or an ancient inter-island vessel. The Chinese have been known to trade with Ilonggos long before the Spaniards and there are some historical records showing that inter-island ships regularly plied the seas off Capiz. But whatever the result of subsequent investigations, the discovery of the ship augurs well for our region because we will know more about our history as a people.


Jules said...

...not unless treasure hunters find it first and strip bare of its contents...

... i would if i was one... hahaha...

Iskandar Figueroa said...

Actually, several galleons threaded their way through the Visayas. It's even more likely that it was a ship provisioning Zamboanga or Maluku, as these galleons and sampans were staged through Iloilo, at least during the seventeenth century.

Anonymous said...

you dont know what happened that time. it was discovered by a local diver not for seahorse he was a diver for sea shells like talaba. that guy did informed the mayor tony del rosario and he called MAR ROXAS and what happened they already got the gold and it is not a chinese junk trade Mar Roxas called marine militaries just to guard the place and even the local diver you mentioned has a deal with the Mayor that he has a share at least for discovering it BUT MAR NEVER GAVE HIM ANYTHING EVEN NOODLES OR EVEN PANG SIGARILYO. HE IS A FUCKING MESS WHAT MAR ROXAS HAS DONE TO CAPIZ AND HOW HE TREATS THE PEOPLE THERE DONT BE SHOCK WHY HE DID NOT WIN THE ELECTION AND VICE PRES BINAY DID! WHY CAPIZENOS HATE HIM. THAT LOCAL DIVER WAS NOT ALLOWED TO GO NEAR TO THE GALLEON ANYMORE. FOR THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN MAR ROXAS YOU ARE ALL DUM!