Columbian President Juan Manual Santos has hailed the discovery of a sunken treasure galleon that went down off Columbia’s coast more than 300 years ago.
The San Jose was sunk by the English Royal Navy in 1708. It is laden with gold and silver coins and precious gems such as emeralds. The treasure is estimated to be worth 4 billion U.S. dollars.
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At a news conference in this colonial port city, Santos said the exact location of the galleon San Jose, and how it was discovered with the help of an international team of experts, was a state secret that he’d personally safeguard. The ship sank somewhere in the wide area off Colombia’s Baru peninsula, south of Cartagena.
While people have yet to reach the wreckage site, autonomous underwater vehicles have gone there and brought back photos of dolphin-stamped bronze cannons in a well-preserved state that leave no doubt to the ship’s identity, the government said.
The discovery is the latest chapter in a saga that began three centuries ago, on June 8, 1708, when the galleon ship with 600 people aboard sank as it was trying to outrun a fleet of British warships. It is believed to have been carrying 11 million gold coins and jewels from then Spanish-controlled colonies that could be worth billions of dollars if ever recovered.
The ship, which maritime experts consider the holy grail of Spanish colonial shipwrecks, has also been the subject of a legal battle in the US, Colombia and Spain over who owns the rights to the sunken treasure.
In 1982, Sea Search Armada, a salvage company owned by US investors including the late actor Michael Landon and convicted Nixon White House adviser John Ehrlichman, announced it had found the San Jose’s resting place 700 feet below the water’s surface.
Two years later, Colombia’s government overturned well-established maritime law that gives 50 percent to whomever locates a shipwreck, slashing Sea Search’s take to a 5 percent “finder’s fee.”
A lawsuit by the American investors in a federal court in Washington was dismissed in 2011 and the ruling was affirmed on appeal two years later. Colombia’s Supreme Court has ordered the ship to be recovered before the international dispute over the fortune can be settled.
San Jose’s Location Was A Mystery
Live Mint reports:
The San Jose has long been the source of fascination and popular legends, and even figures in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera.”
Although they found plenty of other wrecks, the San Jose’s location had remained a mystery until now.
The San Jose was sunk in June 1708 near the Islas del Rosario, off Colombia’s Caribbean coast, during combat with British ships attempting to take its cargo, as part of the War of Spanish Succession.
Only a handful of the ship’s crew of 600 survived when the San Jose sank.
A team of Colombian and foreign researchers, including a veteran of the group that discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985, studied winds and currents of the Caribbean 307 years ago and delved into colonial archives in Spain and Colombia searching for clues.
Experts confirmed that they found the San Jose on 27 November “in a place never before referenced by previous research,” Santos said.
The experts confirmed that they located the San Jose, which was lying on its side, identifying it by its unique bronze cannons with engraved dolphins.
“The amount and type of the material leave no doubt of the identity” of the shipwreck, said Ernesto Montenegro, head of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History.
There could be up to 1,000 shipwrecks off the Caribbean coast of Colombia, but of those only between six and 10 had a large cargo of treasures, anthropologist Fabian Sanabria told AFP.
The biggest find, and the most sought after, was the San Jose, he said.
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