Spanish police have recovered a 16th-century bronze cannon that may have been carried on one of the warships in the ill-fated second Spanish armada, a fortnight after it went missing from the seabed where it had lain for more than 400 years.
A group of shellfish catchers came across three cannon in the sea off the Galician town of Ribeira in north-west Spain while out looking for goose barnacles in mid-April. But when the regional authorities and the navy arrived to salvage the cannon the following day, they found only two.
Police believe the 425-year-old weapon of war may have been taken “on a whim” to be used as a “decorative piece”. Five men and two women were questioned by the Guardia Civil police on suspicion of committing a cultural heritage offence.
Police believe the third cannon had been taken from its resting place later on the day it was discovered. Experts believe all three came from one of the ships King Philip II of Spain dispatched to fight the English in October 1596, eight years after the defeat of the original Spanish armada.
The fleet never made it to Ireland, where it was intended to join the rebellion against English forces and open a new front away from mainland Europe. Instead, it came to grief in a fierce storm off Cape Finisterre, which scattered the armada, sank more than 20 ships and claimed more than 1,700 lives.
Police came across a video that showed the third cannon being taken from the seafloor using ropes and a hook. Under questioning, some of the suspects revealed where it had been stashed.
“We reckon one of those being investigated decided to plunder the cannon on a whim because they thought it would make a nice decorative piece,” the Guardia Civil said in a statement. “But beyond any value it might have if you melted it down, it is an important piece because of the valuable historical and archaeological information it contains – information that gets lost if you remove it from its context and the place where it was found.”
The cannon will be examined by experts at Galicia Sea Museum in Vigo who will decide how best to conserve it.