A team of international treasure hunters is close to finding the final resting place of British Naval hero Sir Francis Drake.

They have found two of his ships which were scuttled off the coast of Panama over 400 years ago following the adventurer's death.

The team believes Drake's lead-lined coffin could be near to the location of the two ships Elizabeth and Delight and have begun a search for the historical artefact.

© UnknownMajor breakthrough: The treasure-hunting team led by American explorer Pat Croce, pictured in action, believe they have found two of Sir Francis Drake's ships which were scuttled off the coast of Panama over 400 years ago - taking them closer to the site of the British naval hero's final resting place
The ships were scuttled by Drake's crews in 1596 after the English captain was buried at sea following his death at the age of 55 from dysentery.

Drake is considered one of Britain's greatest naval heroes having led the English fleet in victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588 as they prepared for an invasion of Britain.

He was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe and the scourge of the Spanish in their ambitions to conquer the world. The wrecks of the ships were found in an underwater expedition led by Pat Croce, a self-confessed pirate enthusiast and former president of the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team.

The 56-year-old financed the expedition to the coast off Panama to try and locate Drake's last known resting place.

His 12-strong crew included explorers from Britain, France, Scotland, Australia, Panama and Colombia.

They were armed with the most sophisticated equipment in the world, including a magnetometer, GeoSwath and sub-bottom profiler that can scan the ocean floor.

Mr Croce said: 'Explorers have been trying to do this stuff forever, and here I am, a homeboy from Philadelphia in the Caribbean and we score! It's pretty wild.'

Mr Croce, who runs a pirate museum in St Augustine, Florida, said the ships would remain in the water as they are the property of Panama.

He said there was no treasure on board as the ships had been stripped before being scuttled.

But he added that his team would now focus their efforts on trying to find Drake's coffin.

He said: 'It's truly a needle in a haystack, but so were the ships. We found them within a week. We just haven't found him - yet.'

Drake was buried in full armour and in a lead lined coffin by his crew following his death.

Other marine experts spoke of the importance of the undersea find.

'We've really, I feel, hit a home run here with what we found with Pat,' said marine archaeologist James Sinclair.

'Finding the Elizabeth and Delight near where Sir Francis Drake is buried is as exciting to me as helping discover the Atocha and diving down to the RMS Titanic.

'Finding ship structures from that time period in this temperature water with the type of organisms that exist is a treasure in itself.

'We have an area that future students of underwater archaeology will be able to use for years to come.'

© UnknownFinal resting place: Drake died near Portobelo, Panama, but after being buried at sea the exact location of his remains are unknown
The Life and Times of Sir Francis Drake

1540 - Born in Tavistock, Devon, as one of 12 children

1563 - Sails for the first time to the New World (the Americas) with second cousin Sir John Hawkins

1568 - Again sailing with Hawkins, Drake becomes trapped by Spaniards in the Mexican port of San Juan de Ulua. Both escape but Drake vows revenge

1572 - Drake leads a fleet who capture huge amounts of Spanish silver off the coast of Panama.

1579/80 - Drake, sailing in the Golden Hind, becomes the first Englishman to sail around the world

1581 - Queen Elizabeth I knights Francis Drake, and he also becomes Mayor of Plymouth

1587 - On the orders of Queen Elizabeth, Drake attacks and destroys the Spanish fleet at Cadiz

1588 - As Vice Admiral of an English fleet alongside Sir John Hawkins and Lord Howard of Effingham, Drake helps destroy the Spanish Armada

1595 - Drake is sent to capture treasure from a wrecked Spanish fleet at La Forteleza, near San Juan, Puerto Rico. Drake fails and returns to Panama

1596 - While anchored off Portobelo, Panama, Drake develops dysentery and dies aged 55. He is buried at sea near Portobelo, though divers have never found the exact location