Holy Grail of Shipwrecks With $20 Billion of Treasure to be Raised from the Deep!
A Spanish galleon lying off the coast of Colombia has become a top priority project for the Colombian government, whose president is eager to recover as much as $20 billion in gold, silver, and gems. This is while US treasure hunters are suing for half the value, as a public-private or a solely private venture is set to be expedited by state officials at the behest of the President, who’s up for re-election in 2026.
The Sinking of the San José: Colonial Interference
The British navy sank the 62-gun San José in a battle in 1708. Now, the San Jose galleon has been declared a national mission, 315 years after a ship off the Colombian port of Cartagena tragically sank after its powder magazines detonated during a conflict with the British. On board, not only were there treasures valued at approximately $20 billion in today's currency, there were also 600 sailors, with only 11 survivors among them, reports The Daily Mail.
During that period, the San José was believed to be carrying a treasure amassed over six years, comprising silver from Bolivia, emeralds from Colombia, and a staggering 11 million gold coins. The extraordinary value of its cargo earned it the moniker "the holy grail of shipwrecks."
Battle of the sinking of the San Jose. Action off Cartagena, May 28, 1708. Source: Public Domain
The ship was recognized for its bronze guns adorned with dolphin engravings and was a component of a fleet en route from Panama to Colombia when it encountered a British squadron during the Spanish War of Succession on June 8, 1708, in the vicinity of the Baru peninsula, off the coast of Cartagena.
Fast forward to 2015, the Colombian government made an announcement that a group of navy divers had successfully located the fabled vessel resting at a depth of nearly 3,100 feet (944m). Just last year, another team managed to capture astonishing images of its impeccably preserved cargo.
“This is one of the priorities for the Petro administration,” Minister of Culture Juan David Correa said Wednesday, in a phone interview to Bloomberg. “The president has told us to pick up the pace.”
- Discovery of Ancient Shipwrecks in the Black Sea
- What Became of Anne Bonny, Irish Pirate of the Caribbean?
The vessel was found at approximately 3,100 feet (944,88m) underwater. (Colombian Ministry of Culture)
Arbitration: Claims on the Treasure by Private Party
In 1981, a US salvage consortium by the name of Glocca Morra claimed to have discovered the San José. They stated that they provided the coordinates to the Colombian government under the understanding that they would be entitled to half of the treasure upon the successful recovery of the wreckage. Since then, an enduring legal dispute has unfolded regarding the terms of that agreement and whether Glocca Morra indeed located the ship.
A model of a Spanish galleon at the Naval History Museum in Mexico City. AlejandroLinaresGarcia/ CC BY-SA 4.0)
Colombia contends that it autonomously located the galleon in 2015, at an undisclosed location distinct from the one claimed by the US salvage consortium. The company has brought its case to arbitration in London, citing the US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement. In this arbitration, the company is requesting $10 billion dollars, which it contends is equivalent to half of the estimated treasure's value based on its calculations, reports The Times.
- The 21st Century Battle for the Treasure of the San José
- Wreckage of Lost Ship of Vasco da Gama is Found and Contains Thousands of Artifacts
Back when this discovery was made, Juan Manuel Santos, the then President, declared that this find "constitutes one of the greatest discoveries of submerged heritage in the history of humanity.” Subsequently, the US salvage team initiated additional legal actions, asserting that the Colombian find is part of the same debris field they had identified in the 1980s.
Correa stated that the country would respect the arbitration ruling, but he also expressed that the case lacks merit. The government conducted an inspection at the coordinates supplied by the company, and, according to him, "we have determined that there is no shipwreck there."
In the end, the government's goal is to establish an archaeological laboratory where the San José's cargo can undergo cleaning, research, and inventorying before being exhibited in a national museum.
Top image: San Jose shipwreck. Credit: Presidency of the Republic of Colombia.
By Sahir Pandey
Gibbs, S. 2023. ‘£16bn shipwreck’ will be raised from the deep. Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/16bn-shipwreck-will-be-raised-from-the-deep-ppfgc9z2q.
Wyss, J. 2023. Colombia Accelerates Plan to Recover Up to $20 Billion in Sunken Treasure. Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2023-11-03/colombia-accelerates-plan-to-recover-billions-in-sunken-treasure.
Yeatman, D. 2023. San Jose shipwreck to dubbed 'the Holy Grail' to be exhumed off Colombia with $20 billion sunken treasure. Available at: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12714409/San-Jose-shipwreck-treasure-Colombia-20-billion.html.