The ‘Holy Grail of shipwrecks’ which holds up to 200 tons of gold, silver and emeralds could be exhumed soon, as Colombia has declared a national mission to recover the treasure.
The Spanish ship, known as San Jose, sank near the Colombian port of Cartagena in 1708 after gun powder on board detonated during a conflict with the British Navy.
600 sailors went down with the vast amount of treasure on board, which has an estimated worth between $4 and $20 billion in today’s currency.
Navy divers from Colombia located the ship at a depth of nearly 3,100 feet in 2015.
Locating the San Jose shipwreck
In 2022, another team of Navy divers captured astounding images of its impeccably preserved cargo.
The Colombian government has just stated its mission to raise the San Jose before President Gustavo Petro’s term ends in 2026.
However, the ownership of the wreck is hotly contested. An American firm claims to have found the vessel decades ago and wants half of the treasure on board.
Glocca Morra, an American research company now known as Sea Search Armada, asserts that it located the San Jose in 1981 and provided the coordinates to the Colombian authorities, with the stipulation that they would receive half of the treasure upon its recovery.
In 2015, Colombia’s President at the time, Juan Manuel Santos, countered this claim by stating that the Navy had found the boat in a different location on the seafloor.
However the company asserted in 2013 that the Colombian government tried to renege on the deal.
“Immediately after being advised of the ship’s location, the government of Colombia (GOC) changed the rules of its agreement with SSA,” a press release stated. “It issued edicts and laws rescinding SSA’s 50% share while offering instead a five percent finder’s fee.”
Legal battle over the San Jose shipwreck
Sea Search Armada is now suing for around $10 billion, approximately half of the estimated treasure, under the US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement.
However, according to the Colombian Minister of Culture, Juan David Correa, the government’s team visited the coordinates provided by Sea Search Armada and found no evidence of the San Jose.
Sea Search Armada’s Jack Harbeston accused the Colombian government of outright corruption.
“The leaders of this latest predatory attempt to take the San Jose are the same corrupt officials who in years past attempted to take SSA’s property by government fiat,” he said at the time.
“This time they are conspiring to pass a law designed solely to take over the San Jose. Bill 125 now being debated in Colombia’s Congress really should be entitled ‘A License to Steal from American Investors.'”
Adding to the complexity, additional claims have emerged from the Spanish government – as the Navy was the original owner of the vessel – and Bolivia’s indigenous Qhara Qhara nation, which asserts that its people were coerced into mining the gold and jewels, making the treasure rightfully theirs.
The San Jose, armed with 62 guns, was en route from Portobelo in Panama, leading a treasure fleet of 14 merchant vessels and three Spanish warships when it encountered the British squadron near Barú, during the War of the Spanish Succession.
The British navy sunk the Spanish galleon ship while they were trying to flee the conflict, killing everyone aboard except for eleven sailors.