West Palm Beach treasure hunter Bob Bouchlas has spent decades searching for a piece of sunken treasure: a gold Madonna and Child statue listed aboard a Spanish galleon that sank in the 1656 near the Bahamas.
The statue was never found among the later recovered loot of gold, silver and jewels.
Bouchlas, 80, says the elusive statue may be buried off the coast of Palm Beach County, and is seeking the rights to salvage the wreckage of a what he believes is the San Miguel Arcangel.
The Spanish ship went down near what is now Palm Beach County around the same time as the legendary Nuestra Señora de las Maravillas galleon, which sank near the Bahamas with a cargo of gold and gems partly salvaged in the 70s and 80s.
On Friday, Bouchlas filed a claim in federal court in West Palm Beach seeking the exclusive rights to explore an area off the coast of Juno Beach under federal admiralty laws.
His claim is the latest in a dispute among treasure hunters who want the right to look off the coast of Palm Beach County for untold riches.
"I'm not after the silver and gold, I want the Madonna," said Bouchlas, who said he is also an ordained priest in a little-known Ukrainian National Orthodox Christian church.
He said the 3-foot statue should go to the Vatican.
The exact location of the elusive San Miguel shipwreck has sparked debate among South Florida treasure hunters who have dedicated their lives to explore the area's underwater loot.
Jupiter Capt. Dominic Addario believes the thousands of gold and silver coins and other artifacts he's excavated off the coast of Jupiter belong to the San Miguel.
A federal court judge in 1987 awarded him the rights to salvage artifacts from the site near Jupiter, which include coins that date back to 1658 and 1659.
During his 25 years digging through the site, Addario has never found the ship, so it's unclear from which wreck they came.