Gold, silver, jewels - Spanish galleon with $1 billion in treasure located off Colombian coast
Underwater explorers in Colombia have found what they believe is the richest shipwreck in the world, The San Jose, a Spanish galleon blown up by the British about 300 years ago, killing most on board and sinking an estimated $1 billion worth of valuables. The ship’s cargo includes gems, jewelry, gold and silver. It went down in 1,000 feet (300 meters) of water.
The next-richest shipwreck previously found was the Black Swan Project, a disputed Spanish wreck of the early 19 th century found near Gibraltar that yielded $500 million, or 17 tons of coins.
The president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, tweeted the announcement, saying, “Great news: We found the galleon San Jose!” and “The discovery of the galleon San Jose marks a historical milestone for our underwater cultural patrimony.”
— Juan Manuel Santos (@JuanManSantos) December 5, 2015
The shipwreck was discovered near the port of Cartagena, a city on the Caribbean Sea on the north coast of South America. The loot on board the ship was being shipped to Spain in June 1708 to finance the king’s war of succession. A British warship commanded by Commodore Charles Wager encountered the ship about 16 miles offshore and sank it. Reports said the ship exploded.
An 1803 Spanish piece of eight, a silver coin that circulated all around the world then. (Photo by Jerry Woody/Wikimedia Commons)
A U.S. company, Sea Search Armada, had claimed a stake of the treasure and had sued the Colombian government for billions of dollars for alleged breach of contract. In 1981, a group now affiliated with Sea Search Armada said it had found the area of the shipwreck. But in 2011 a U.S. court ruled that the Colombian government was the rightful owner of the ship and its cargo.
Other spectacular finds may lie under the waters off the coast of Colombia as about 1,000 ships are thought to have sunk near coral reefs during 300 years of colonial Spanish occupation. UNESCO says there may be 1 million shipwrecks around the world.
A model of a Spanish galleon on display in the Naval History Museum in Mexico City (Photo by Alejandro Linares Garcia/Wikimedia Commons)
Colombian officials are not disclosing the location of The San Jose, presumably to protect its contents from looters. Officials intend to build a museum to display the treasure.
Other big shipwreck finds over the years include:
- The Nuestra Senora de Atocha, which went down in 1622 in the Florida Keys and was found in 1985 by a private company owned by Mel Fisher. The take was about $450 million in gold, silver, jewels and copper. The ship is still being salvaged, and the sterncastle, its most valuable part, has not yet been discovered.
- The $400 million pirate galley the Whydah captained by “Black Sam” Bellamy that sank in 1717 in a gale off the New England coast. Survivors of the shipwreck said it had on board 30,000 pounds of silver, 10,000 pounds of gold and 20 tons of ivory and jewels. More than 200,000 artifacts have been pulled from the ship. Salvager Barry Clifford found it in 1985.
- The British Treasury ship the S.S. Gairsoppa, which a German U-boat sank in 1941 with silver valued in today’s market at about $200 million—7 million ounces of silver, the most metal ever recovered from the sea in one haul. A private company, Odyssey Marine Exploration, salvaged the treasure in 2011 from 2.8 miles (4.6 kilometers) below the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean and kept 80 percent in a deal with the British government.
- The Diamond Shipwreck, the Portuguese Bom Jesus ship, found on the beach on the South Atlantic coast of Namibia in 2008 with 22 tons of ingots, thousands of gold coins determined to be of 16 th century Portuguese minting, six cannons, swords and more than 50 elephant tusks.
Featured image: Samuel Scott’s painting titled “Action off Cartagena, May 28, 1708,” executed before 1772. (Wikimedia Commons)
By Mark Miller