The wreck of a Portuguese man-of-war that sank in 1512 laden with "one of the biggest lost treasures of the world" has been found on the seabed in the Strait of Malacca, government officials said Tuesday.

Abdul Rahim Tamby Chik, chief minister of the state of Malacca, said the Flor de la Mar (Flower of the Sea), the flagship of Portuguese conqueror Alfonso d'Albuquerque, had been found off Malaysia's west coast by a foreign marine salvage team.The ship sank during a storm in 1512 after hitting a reef. It was carrying plundered treasure from the Malay rulers of the rich Malacca Sultanate - booty now thought to be worth more than $3 billion, Rahim said.

He said the salvage group, whose identity he would not reveal, had been working "in secret" for the past three years, and Malacca authorities only heard "by chance" about the treasure on Saturday.

"Although it may be a costly move, we hope to recover the lost treasures of the Malacca Sultanate," he said.

"The wreck of the Flor de la Mar is believed to contain one of the biggest lost treasures of the world."

Rahim would not disclose the ship's location or details of the booty for fear that looters may race to the site before a salvage agreement is negotiated between the Malacca authorities, the federal government and the international company that discovered the wreck.

The English-language daily New Straits Times said the wreck was located in a "neighboring" country's territorial waters.

Under international law, any recovered treasure should be split between the country of origin, the country in whose territorial waters it is found and those who salvage it.

Albuquerque left Malacca bound for Cochin in southwest India in January 1512 along with two other ships - Trinidade and Enxobregas - which were also laden with treasure for King Manuel of Portugal. But the Flor de la Mar hit a reef and sank in a storm in deep water off the Malacca coast.