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How Much Is All the World's Sunken Treasure Worth?

With the recent sinking of a luxury cruise liner -- the Costa Concordia -- off the coast of Tuscany and treasure hunter Greg Brooks stating he thinks he has located the S.S. Port Nicholson, which is rumored to have $3 billion of platinum bars on board, people's thoughts have been turning toward what is buried at the bottoms of the world's oceans.

This has got Popular Mechanics thinking too: how much sunken treasure is there worldwide? The answer is not straight forward -- as you might expect -- but one estimate is upwards of $60 billion.

Popular Mechanics first addresses the issue of the number of known sunken ships? It reports NOAA's Maritime Heritage Program Director, James Delgado, as saying there are probably a million. On the flip side, historian Amy Mitchell-Cook at the University of West Florida says there really isn't an accurate way to estimate the number of shipwrecks as the records are most likely incomplete.

So how about a dollar figure? For this, Popular Mechanics spoke with a shipwreck hunter at Mel Fisher's Treasures in Key West. Sean Fisher says based on his company's analysis of historical records, there could be as much as $60 billion under water. Fisher, whose specialty is Spanish ships transporting wealth from the Americas to Europe, said that some of these ships alone could have had billions.

As an example, Popular Mechanics reports that Spain just finished bringing up $500 million in treasure from a Spanish ship that sank in the early 1800s. The tale of ownership with regard to the treasure on this ship specifically -- the Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes -- is currently unfolding. Although it was found by a company based in the United States, it lost claim to the treasure to Spain. Just this week, the dredged up treasure was all set to be flown back to Spain from Tampa’s MacDill Air Force Base where it was being held. But at the last minute the Peruvian government made a claim for it. Some hold that Peruvian merchants had owned the coins. The U.S. Supreme Court urged that the treasure not be moved to give Peru time to appeal but the Spanish government went ahead with moving the treasure today.

“Peru is making the same arguments that have been rejected at every level of the U.S. courts,” said James Goold, a Washington attorney who has represented the Spanish government throughout. “There’s absolutely nothing new in it.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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