18th century:

While in the Pacific Ocean, two nations fight over the spoils of a shipwreck, let’s take a look back at the Spanish galleons and English privateers passing through Ecuador.

The galleons’ function was to bring back to the Spanish crown everything that came from the American continent, via the Seville-based “Casa de Contratación”, which recorded everything that entered the Royal Treasury.

However, these voyages entailed certain risks: not only because of the reefs off the ports of Salinas, Manta or Esmeraldas in Ecuador, where the ships could refuel with water and food, but also because of the English privateers who were always plundering them. It is estimated that 60 galleons were sunk in the waters off Ecuador.

Facts & figures

To give you an idea of the scale of this adventure, UNESCO estimates that there are almost 3 million sunken ships on the planet. During the Colony, 1,546 galleons made the link between the New and Old Worlds. It is claimed that 1 galleon in 8 did not reach its destination.

The shipwrecks which are known with certainty :

  • the Santa Teresa del Niño Jesús, near the island of Puná in the Gulf of Guayaquil,
  • the San José, the Santa Leocadia, the Preciado near Santa Elena
  • the San Bernardo, the San Francisco and the San Cristobal off the coastal province of Manabi are known with certainty.

In other words, these waters still harbor secrets that are of great interest to private treasure-hunting companies, but also to governments.

In this panorama, the Galapagos acted as a rear base for English privateers, the equivalent of Jamaica for the Caribbean.

The abundance of turtles, despite the lack of fresh water, provided them with rich and abundant food. But these pirates in the unofficial service of the English crown also used Isla de la Plata (near Puerto Lopez) and Isla del Muerto to attack galleons.

Since 2015, the Ecuadorian government has issued regulations prohibiting all commercial treasure hunts. And no archaeological missions have recently been approved. So we can still dream of these buccaneer mysteries as we visit these islands, and imagine what life might have been like for these pirates, whom blue-footed boobies and turtles must have watched with some curiosity.