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Colombia to Raise “The Holy Grail of Shipwrecks” Worth $17 Billion

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Colombia to Raise The Holy Grail of Shipwrecks Worth $17 Billion

The government of Colombia announced yesterday that it will attempt to rescue articles from the 1708 wreckage of the Spanish galleon San Jose, which is thought to hold a cargo worth billions of dollars.

The 300-year-old wreck, known as the “holy grail of shipwrecks,” has sparked debate since it is both an archeological and commercial prize.

The first efforts, according to Culture Minister Juan David Correa, will take place between April and May, depending on ocean conditions in the Caribbean. Correa assured everyone that it would be a scientific mission.

“This is an archaeological wreck, not a treasure,” stated Correa after meeting with President Gustavo Petro. “This is an opportunity for us to become a country at the forefront of underwater archaeological research.”

In November 2015, the REMUS 6000 from the Massachusetts-based WHOI collected some side sonar photos that led to the discovery of the San Jose in more than 2,000 feet (600 meters) of water.

Colombia san jose shipwreck

The vehicle dived to 30 feet (9 meters) above the ruin to capture many images, including some of the distinctive dolphin engravings on the cannons of the San Jose, which was a vital piece of visual proof.

The 62-gun, three-masted galleon sank on June 8, 1708, with 600 persons aboard and a treasure of gold, silver, and emeralds during a combat with British ships during the War of Spanish Succession. By modern standards, the treasure is worth up to $17 billion.

Correa stated that the material recovered from the wreck would be brought aboard a navy ship for study, most likely by robotic or submersible vessels. A second effort may be planned based on the results.

More than 300 years ago, the San Jose galleon perished in a combat with British ships. It was discovered in 2015, but it has been entangled in legal and diplomatic squabbles ever then.

The Colombian government abandoned efforts to explore the ship in 2018, citing disagreements with a private firm that claims salvage rights under a 1980s deal with the Colombian government.

colombia San Jose shipwreck

In 2018, the United Nations Cultural Organization urged Colombia not to commercialize the accident.

A UNESCO expert panel protecting undersea cultural assets wrote to Colombia, expressing worry that recovering the wealth for commercial purposes rather than historical value “would result in the irreversible loss of significant heritage.”

“Allowing the commercial exploitation of Colombia’s cultural heritage goes against the best scientific standards and international ethical principles as laid down especially in the UNESCO Underwater Cultural Heritage Convention,” according to the letter.

Colombia has not ratified the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which would bind it to international standards and obligate it to notify UNESCO of its plans for the wreck.

The wreck was discovered three years ago by an international team of experts and autonomous underwater vehicles, and its precise position remains a state secret. The ship went down in the Caribbean Sea somewhere off Colombia’s Baru peninsula, south of Cartagena.

The lost wealth has been the subject of a legal struggle in the United States, Colombia, and Spain over who owns the rights to it.

According to Colombia, researchers discovered bronze cannons in good condition, as well as ceramic and porcelain vases and personal weaponry.

The specs of the cannons, according to the researchers, leave no question that the wreck is that of the San Jose.

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