A Dutch Treasure Hunter Is Digging for 800 Barrels of Gold on Robinson Crusoe Island
(Bloomberg) -- The legend is too good to resist -- 800 barrels crammed with gold and jewels hidden on the small, rocky island in the Pacific Ocean that inspired Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe novel.
The story of how the 18th century Spanish gold from the Americas got there seems to change with every telling and evidence is thin on the ground to say the least. Yet that hasn’t stopped Dutch businessman and treasure hunter Bernard Keiser from dedicating much of his life to searching for it.
The stakes rose this week after it was made public that authorities in Chile had given him permission to dig up part of a national park using heavy machinery. While the authorities argue the area is smaller than a soccer field, environmentalists and opposition parties say the intervention of an 8.7-ton excavator will be irreversible.
“It is a clear twisting of the law that’s being used to favor a Dutch multimillionaire who hasn’t found any evidence after years of searching,” said Diego Ibanez, a congressman with left-wing coalition of parties Frente Amplio. “It’s important to preserve the land, and not to give it away to investigations that seem to be based more on religion than science.”
Murder and mutiny
The place in question is Juan Fernandez, an island 400 miles off the Chilean coast where the Scottish privateer Alexander Selkirk was marooned for four years in the early 18th century. The event inspired the Robinson Crusoe story.
The gold allegedly arrived on the island a few years after Selkirk left and involves a swashbuckling tale of hurricanes, shipwrecks, looting, murder and mutiny. Some accounts value the treasure at $10 billion and say it included a giant rose made of gold.
The treasure was allegedly amassed by the Spanish Crown in Latin America and buried on Juan Fernandez by admiral Juan Esteban Ubilla around 1714, during a civil war in Spain.
A common version of the story goes that, before dying in a hurricane, Ubilla told British naval officer and then ally George Anson where the treasure was hidden. Years later, Anson sent another captain to dig it up. Unfortunately, his ship was hit by a storm as it was heading for the mainland and he had to go back and bury the treasure again.
On hearing of plans for a mutiny, the captain burned his ship, killed the crew and fled in a rowboat to the mainland. Then died.
Yes, the story holds water as well as a shipwrecked Spanish galleon.
The legend was reportedly revived in 1950 with the discovery of a letter giving a description of the gold’s location. Keiser and SGA SA, a Chilean environmental consultancy firm lodging the exploration requests with authorities, refused to comment.
Keiser has been conducting yearly searches in a rocky sector on the northwest of the island known as Puerto Ingles. Teams of around ten people using portable equipment have drilled as deep as 7 meters (23 feet) in search of an underground cave where the treasure is supposed to be buried, according to filings with Chile’s environmental authority SEA. He now intends to use a backhoe excavator with a lifting capacity of 4.4 tons.
The new plans sparked controversy on the mainland when the regional director of the forestry agency, Conaf, resigned this month, saying he opposed Keiser’s exploration, according to reports in local media. National Heritage Minister Felipe Ward also came under fire for meeting Keiser shortly before Conaf approved the use of the excavator. Lawmakers, including Ibanez, have requested an investigation.
If the treasure is ever found, Keiser will become fabulously wealthy -- even though he must give 75% of the findings to the Chilean state. The end of the story may be more mundane though -- an embarrassed minister, a large hole, a damaged national park and a irritating absence of gold.
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