The wreck of one of the richest treasure ships ever lost at sea has been discovered, but there are fears that little of the cargo remains.

The Flor de la Mar sank off northern Sumatra nearly five centuries ago after leaving the Malaysian trading port of Malacca with booty which could now be worth at least $1 billion.The ship belonged to the Portuguese soldier, Alfonso d'Albuquerque, who took Malacca in 1511. He loaded his vessel with the treasures of the Malaccan sultanate, along with gold, precious stones and artifacts acquired in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

But the Flor de la Mar never made it back to Portugal. She hit a reef and sank in the Malacca straits.

Last week a company licensed by the Indonesian government to seek the wreck, Jayatama Istikacipta, announced that it had finally found the ship's remains about five miles off Sumatra. Jayatama, which is headed by the foster brother of Indonesia's President Suharto, said it had already brought up coins, knives and wood, but would give no estimate of their value.

Salvaging the treasure may prove to be difficult. An American marine archeologist says the wreckage is spread over an area about 120 feet wide and covered in 50 feet of solidified silt.

Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.