Duke launches treasure hunt for Spanish Armada gold

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THE hope of sunken treasure has persuaded a Scottish aristocrat to undertake an ambitious search for a Spanish Armada galleon that sank 400 years ago.

The 13th Duke of Argyll, Sir Torquhil Ian Campbell, has brought in a team of divers to survey the waters off Mull for the remains of the wreck believed to have lain there since 1588.

The truth surrounding the sinking of the vessel, believed to be carrying 30 million of gold, in Tobermory Bay is shrouded in mystery.

Some say it was San Juan de Sicilia, a troop carrier, others claim it was the Almirante di Florencia, laden with Spanish gold and treasure, which blew up in the bay where it was sheltering after the Armada's defeat.

Mull was given to the duke's family in 1641. Sir Torquhil is not the first member of his family to try to find the ship. He said: "Generations of my family have been trying to find the wreck of the Spanish galleon for hundreds of years and, with advances in underwater exploration, I may be able to find some answers. It's part of our heritage and would be of great historical interest if we were able to prove that a galleon from the Spanish Armada is in Tobermory Bay."

He claimed that any discovery could be turned into a Scottish attraction "as important as the Mary Rose".

However, despite two weeks of surveying, he says his team have found "nothing but mud".

And local historian Olive Brown was doubtful that they would find any gold doubloons: "There have been bits and pieces of wood and pottery found, but no gold. This team think they are going to crack it, and good luck to them."

The cause of the ship's sinking has been disputed. One theory is that Mull's leading clan chief, Sir Lachlan Maclean of Duart Castle, blew up the ship to take the treasure, but in detonating the vessel's gunpowder, sent it, the crew and the treasure to the seabed.

Historians have also blamed an English agent attempting to prevent the Spanish Armada regrouping for another attack.

Others claim that the island's residents blew it up for trying to leave without paying its dues. Some suggest it was an accident.

The diving team is working 50 yards offshore, initially using sonar equipment to guide their dawn-to-dusk search.

Mark Horton, an archeologist and presenter on the BBC TV series Coast, said: "If he can find it then that would be good going, but

you can be sure that at the time it sank, as long as it wasn't too deep, locals would have known where it was and scavenged whatever they could."