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Records hint sunken ship part of Columbus's fleet

Panamanian archeologists said yesterday they have found a sunken ship that dates from the early 1500s and could be one of two abandoned by explorer Christopher Columbus on his fateful voyage to the region.

"We have discovered a Spanish ship in good condition, and in looking at the pieces on board and historical records, we believe it belonged to Christopher Columbus," the head of Panama's national culture institute said.

Rafael Ruiloba said he believes the ship was the Vizcaina (Biscayan), one of a fleet of four vessels that left Spain on May 11, 1502, and sailed as far south as present-day Panama.

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The ship was discovered off the coastal province of Colon submerged in shallow Caribbean waters. Divers found on board typical ammunition of the time, which Mr. Ruiloba said matched those that would have been on a ship carrying Columbus, who arrived in the Americas in 1492.

Mr. Ruiloba said that 500 years ago the waters off Colon were busy shipping lanes for Spanish traders and that he thought "no less than 20 ships and galleons sank there between 1500 and 1819."

According to Mr. Ruiloba and historical studies, native leader Quibian attacked the four vessels after the Spaniards' brutal treatment of the native people in their search for gold.

In the process of escaping the Belen river area, the vessel Gallega was left trapped in the river. The Vizcaina was abandoned and sank shortly thereafter.

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