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Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 16:50 GMT
'Columbus ship' found in Panama
Painting of Christopher Columbus
Columbus led four expeditions to the Americas
Researchers in Panama say a sunken ship found off their coast could be one of the vessels used by Christopher Columbus in his last voyage to the Americas.

"We have discovered a Spanish ship in good condition, and looking at the pieces on board and historical records, we believe it belonged to Christopher Columbus," said Rafael Ruiloba, head of the National Culture Institute.

Looking at the pieces on board and historical records, we believe it belonged to Christopher Columbus

Rafael Ruiloba, National Culture Institute
Mr Ruiloba believes the ship - discovered in shallow Caribbean waters off the port of Portobelo in the department of Colon - is the Vizcaina, abandoned by the Genoa-born explorer on his fourth voyage.

That final expedition consisted of a fleet of four. Only two ships survived.

The Gallega was trapped in the Belen river after the native leader Quiban attacked the expedition in 1503. Soon after, the Vizcaina was stripped of all items of value and left to sink.

More vessels

In the sunken vessel divers have found cannons and ammunition which match the description of those Columbus's ships used.

The wreck was apparently dragged into shallow water, where sand and coral later covered it.

The ship was discovered by workers filling lorries with beach sand for construction projects.

The area has now been declared an archaeological zone.

Mr Ruiloba believes that up to 20 Spanish vessels which sank between 1500 and 1819 may be lying on the seabed near Portobelo.

Five centuries ago, Portobelo served as one of Spain's main commercial centres in the New World, and its waters were busy shipping lanes for Spanish traders.

See also:

02 Nov 99 | World
Columbus tops millennium poll
14 Oct 98 | Americas
Christopher Columbus - on trial
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