Puerto Rico looks to salvage its public pride with dive for privateer's booty

By Rory Carroll

By tradition English pirates plundered the Caribbean for gold and silver with raids which instilled dread in coastal settlements and Spanish fleets.

Their purpose was not to stash treasure on the ocean floor to bail out, centuries later, a cash-strapped municipality which risks losing a coveted sporting event.

But more than 400 years after it sank a galleon thought to have belonged to John Hawkins, a legendary English privateer, they may rescue a Puerto Rican city's budget and pride.

Local politicians and salvage experts have unveiled a quixotic plan to salvage a wreck which, they say, contains up to $2bn (£1.35bn) in treasure.

The bounty would be used to save Puerto Rico's hosting of the 2010 Central American and Caribbean Games in Mayagüez, a city on the west coast, and avert a humiliating fiasco.

"We want you to know this is a well-grounded project," Evelyn Vazquez, a ruling party senator, told a press conference last week. "This has been done in other places, like Miami."

She displayed ancient bottles and jugs which have already been salvaged and said the wreck contained an estimated $1bn to $2bn in coins, ingots, jewellery and artefacts such as cannons.

Along with another senator, Lucy Arce, Vazquez planned to seek funding for the project from the island's national assembly.

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