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Aerial image of the Port of Cadiz and the new container terminal. La Voz
Historic moment awaits as Port of Cadiz prepares to lift a late 17th century galleon from its waters
History

Historic moment awaits as Port of Cadiz prepares to lift a late 17th century galleon from its waters

A specialist company is finalising preparations to start the recovery operation of this wreck that was discovered in 2011 and moved to safer waters while work was under way on phase I of the city's container terminal

Beatriz Estévez

Cadiz

Tuesday, 23 April 2024, 19:35

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Preparations are under way to recover the Spanish galleon from the waters of the Bay of Cadiz that was discovered in 2011. The Cadiz company Divership Servicios Subacuáticos SL will be in charge of this project expected to last for six months.

The company's manager, David Rodríguez, says that all administrative procedures have been completed and they are liaising with Acciona, the construction company in charge of phase two of the new container terminal for the port of Cadiz. As La Voz de Cádiz newspaper published last February, the Port Authority for the Bay of Cadiz (APBC) put out to tender this work to float the wreck as its location was right in the middle of where the new terminal work was planned.

This warship made of wood - named Delta I - was discovered on the seabed back in February 2011 during the first phase of construction work on the terminal. However, it was not removed from the sea, rather it was moved in November 2012 to an area adjacent to the construction site, in shallower waters with better visibility. Therefore, it went from being at a depth of between 12 to 16 metres to just 5.5 metres down. It was protected with a geotextile covering and then all the sediment brought in by tidal activity left it in a similar state of conservation to the one it had before the humans intervened.

Now, 12 years after its discovery , it will be removed from the sea to be completely dismantled and studied by the Centre for Underwater Archaeology (CAS) . Some study work has already been undertaken: between May and July 2013, more than 400 dives were made to study the military vessel in its new location, to excavate the interior of the vessel and to extract all archaeologically worthwhile materials that were still inside , resulting in 27 pieces of artillery (cannons) and 5 anchors being found.

Several of the cannons that were recovered from inside the galleon.
Several of the cannons that were recovered from inside the galleon. L.V.

Rodríguez states that the floating pontoon needed to rescue and recover the galleon is already being assembled, and very soon Divership also plans to begin dredging.

Some 12 to 14 people will be involved in this recovery operation which, according to the manager of this company specialising in underwater operations and services, "does not entail major difficulties" as everything is already "well-planned". In addition, they already have experience with this galleon as it was the same company that was in charge of the wreck being relocated in 2012.

David Rodríguez mentions that the new location was also flanked by several concrete blocks being placed around the wreck, thus forming a kind of protective enclosure. Over the next few months, and with a budget of almost 640,000 euros excluding IVA (Spain's sales tax) , they will have the task of removing the ship from its current 'comfort zone' and moving it to dry-dock facilities next to Navantia's dock 5 . There it will be placed on sandbags and covered with a tarpaulin for research by CAS investigators. Without question for Rodríguez "this subsequent research is the most important part" of this whole operation.

During this research phase of the galleon the designated experts will proceed to dismantle the different parts that make up the wreck for detailed analysis . Following these investigations, as stated in the approved project proposal, "the elements into which the wreck is broken down must be placed on specially designed bases, properly preserved and turned into a fixed display in the culture zone of the revamped Punta de San Felipe". As such, the company awarded the contract will have to label and wrap each piece in geotextile surrounded by sand, and then place them all on galvanised steel pallets which will be fixed into position, in principle, on display between Punta de San Felipe and the Mar de Leva dock. The anchoring operation will be overseen by CAS.

Both the design of the recovery operation and the work to be carried out have received the approval of the Port Authority, the Junta's Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport - as the recognised authority in archaeological matters - and the Maritime Captaincy. Likewise, those responsible for Divership must follow the instructions given by the Centre for Underwater Archaeology whose experts can be present at dives and other manoeuvres in a supervisory capacity in order to ensure the integrity of the wreck at all stages.

All underwater work will be recorded on film and the photographs and video footage taken will make useful contributions to the planned book explaining the whole process.

Divership refloated El Vaporcito del Puerto

Divership Servicios Subacuáticos S.L. is a company from Cadiz specialising in underwater operations and services in accordance with national and international requirements, standards and guidelines for commercial diving that started its business activity in 1998. Among the operations carried out by this company - based at the Tres Caminos industrial estate - was the refloating of the Adriano III, better known as the Vaporcito del Puerto , which sank in the Reina Victoria dock on 30 August 2011 after colliding with the Punta Soto breakwater on the quayside of the port of Cadiz.

Likewise, in 2018 it refloated Thoram , the vessel that was transporting a cache of 3.8 tonnes of cocaine in 2017. The Port of Cadiz to the Port of Santa María was the last crossing for this tugboat when it was intercepted in October of that year by the Special Operations Group (GEO) of the National Police, making it the largest cocaine seizure in 2017. In 2018 it sank in the Port of Cadiz, where it had been since the seizure was recorded.

In the summer of 2022 the company was also involved in replacing the gate to dry dock number 4 at Navantia's Cadiz facility. The existing cantilever arms were removed and new ones installed, as was the support into which the new gate would be inserted. It was the first and only time to date that this type of work has been carried out in a Spanish shipyard.

Divership has also carried out numerous projects related to the extraction, cataloguing, documentation and conservation of archaeological pieces belonging to Delta I, Delta II and Delta III wrecks, all located in the Bay of Cadiz and dating back to the 17th century.

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