Colombian government to explore billion-dollar wreck

Published 26 February 2024
- By Editorial Staff
Gold coins have been found on the wreck.

The Colombian government is conducting a deep-sea expedition to explore the mythical galleon San José. The ship sank in the 18th century and is believed to contain cargo worth billions of dollars.

The ship is a three-masted, 64-gun galleon that was part of the Spanish Armada de la Guardia de la Carrera de las Indias. Launched in 1698, it was sunk ten years later in a battle off the island of Barú, south of Cartagena, Colombia.

The galley is believed to have been loaded with emeralds, 11 million gold and silver coins, and other precious cargo from Spanish-controlled colonies that could be worth billions of dollars. The enormous value of the cargo has led to the San José being called the “Holy Grail of shipwrecks”.

The United States, Colombia and Spain have been locked in a legal battle over who owns the rights to the sunken treasure. One group of American investors, the Sea Search Armada (SSA), claims to have found the wreck in 1981. However, the Colombian government refused to sign an offer to split the shares and denied the group permission to salvage the wreck. The Colombian parliament then passed a law that gave the state ownership of the entire treasure, with SSA receiving a 5% finder’s fee.

Important cultural heritage

In the first phase, a deep-water scientific survey will be conducted to gather information to determine which parts are suitable and possible to salvage, reports The Independent. The wreck lies at a depth of about 600 meters in the sea. Advanced robotic equipment will also be used to record the wreck. It is the cultural heritage that is important, to find out what life was like for the 600 people who were on board when the ship sank, said Colombia’s Culture Minister Juan David Correa.

– It is time to claim the heritage elements for which the remains of the galleon should be valued. History is the treasure, he says.

The expedition begins this spring.

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