The “Holy Grail of shipwrecks” believed to have been carrying 200 tons of treasure, including gold, silver and emeralds is to be recovered from the floor of the Caribbean Sea, Colombia announced.
The lifting of the San José wreck which which sank more than 300 years ago, comes amid an ongoing dispute over who owns the treasure.
Claims to its fortune have also been made by Spain and by Bolivia’s indigenous Qhara Qhara nation, which claims the Spanish extracted the wealth from its people. A salvage company has also claimed to have first discovered the wreck in 1981.
Colombia President Gustavo Petro wants the recovery of the shipwreck to be one of the “priorities” of his administration before his term ends in 2026.
Culture minister Juan David Correa told Bloomberg: “The president has told us to pick up the pace.”
As Colombia One reports, the government has not disclosed the precise location of the wreck, nor a timeline for the recovery operation. However, the commitment to bring the San José’s treasure to the surface is clear. The project is poised to be a delicate operation, balancing the preservation of historical artifacts with the extraction of valuable commodities.
The recovery of San José’s treasure is not just a matter of financial gain, Colombia One adds. It presents numerous challenges and considerations, from the technical aspects of deep-sea salvage to the ethical implications of treasure hunting.
The operation will need to navigate the murky waters of international law, conservation concerns, and the preservation of cultural heritage.
Holy Grail of Shipwrecks had millions of gold coins
The San José, a 62-cannon, three-masted Spanish galleon, met its watery grave on June 8, 1708, during a fierce battle against the British in the War of Spanish Succession.
With approximately 600 souls aboard, the ship sank near the Colombian port of Cartagena, taking down with it an estimated 200 tons of gold, silver, and emeralds from the mines of the Viceroyalty of Peru.
The wreck is estimated to be worth billions of dollars, based on the speculation that it had up to 11 million 4-doubloons (i.e. 11 million 8 escudos gold coins, or 11 million coins each of 27 grams of 92% gold, totaling 8.8 million troy ounces AGW, or $11.5 billion) and many silver coins on board at the time of its sinking, similar to its surviving sister ship, San Joaquín.
That would make the multi-deck vessel among the richest sunken ships ever discovered. The silver and gold are from the mines of Potosí, Bolivia.
For years, the San José was the subject of lore and speculation until a team of Colombian navy divers, under the auspices of the government, discovered the wreck in 2015, lying at about 3,100 feet deep.
This discovery was not without contention; Sea Search Armada, formerly known as Glocca Morra, a U.S. company, claimed they had located the wreck back in 1981 and provided coordinates to the Colombian government, expecting a share of the treasure.