Colombia finds 18th century shipwreck laden with treasure: The San José
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Colombia finds 18th century shipwreck laden with treasure: The San José

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos confirmed the discovery of one of the most valuable shipwrecks in history just off the the country’s Carribean coast, on Friday, December 3.

The president commented that the San José “it is one of the greatest finds of underwater heritage in the history of mankind”.

“Great news: We found the San José galleon” President Santos wrote on his Twitter account, revealing that the quest for the legendary treasure was over.

The Spanish galleon San Jose was sunk after an attack by an English battleship commanded by Charles Wager some 307 years ago near Colombia’s Rosario islands, off the coast of walled city Cartagena de Indias.

The San José was laden with silver, gold, emeralds and other jewels for the Spanish Crown. The hoard is supposedly the greatest treasure ever to have disappeared at sea and the search has continued, accumulating an estimated worth of up to $17 billion.

“I am pleased as head of State to tell the Colombian people that without a shadow of a doubt we have found the sunken Galleon San José some 307 years later” Santos said during a press conference on Saturday, December 5 at Cartagena de Indias’ Naval Base.

He also added that a large museum will be built in Cartagena and that Colombian universities will be invited to oversee the galleon extraction process, ensuring that it is in accordance with the law.


The discovery took place a week before the announcement, on the morning of Friday, November 27.

According to Colombian magazine Semana, a “dream team” of various experts in different areas participated in the search. The team included scientists who participated in the research and discovery of the Titanic.

“We had no doubt (that it was the San José) upon seeing the bronze canons with carvings of dolphins,” said researcher Ernesto Montenegro, director of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History (ICANH), in charge of the expedition.

The project was managed by the Ministry of Culture, with collaboration from ICANH and international experts.

The shipwreck was found by using a scanning method called Systematic Regional Surveying, which uses sonar, special cameras and an AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle) to navigate the sea bed, El Espectador reports.

So far, sonar images of the San José have shown ceramics, bronze cannons and other weaponry.

The exact location of the wreckage is under top secret by the Colombian State for the time being, according to reports from BBC Mundo.


However, the San José could be set to spawn several legal battles.

The Government of Spain has requested “precise information” about the discovery of the galleon before deciding what action to take in defense of their underwater heritage.

Jose Maria Lassalle, Spanish Secretary of State for Culture, appealed for caution “with regard to the special bilateral relationship” that his country holds with Colombia, but recalled the “clear position” of Spain in defense of their underwater heritage.

The location of the shipwreck has allegedly been known for over 34 years.

In 1981 controversy arose as American salvagers, Sea Search Armada (SSA), claimed to have found the location of the shipwreck.

However, a legal battle over who owns the shipwreck between the Colombian government and SSA was resolved in 2011 by a U.S. court ruling that it is Colombian property.

“Ownership of shipwrecks is never as simple as it seems,” said Frederick Hanselmann, chief underwater archaeologist at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment at Texas State University.

According to different historical sources, in Colombian territorial waters there may lie some 1,100 Spanish galleons laden with gold, silver and precious stones that were capsized or sunk by pirates in the 17th and 18th centuries.

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