Shipwrecks and buried treasures may seem like they are something from a children’s book, but they can be found in real life. In 2015, maritime experts discovered a Spanish galleon off the coast of Colombia. The ship had been lost for over three hundred years with all kinds of treasure inside. Continue reading to learn about this mysterious shipwreck, what kind of treasure was aboard, and who will get to keep it.
Going Back To The 1700s
During the 1700s, Colombia was a colony of Spain. At the time, Spain controlled a lot of commerce, which was mostly done by ship.
One of the most prolific galleons of this time was the San Jose. This large passenger ship would travel between South America and Europe to deliver precious goods.
Why King Philip V Of Spain Was Expecting The Ship
The galleon named San Jose left Panama’s port city of Portobelo in late May of 1708 with precious cargo on board.
The contents of the ship were all meant to go to King Philip V of Spain. He relied on the resources that came from his colonies to finance the War of the Spanish Succession.
Why The Attack Happened
Jose Fernandez de Santillan was the captain of the San Jose galleon and he was aware that the British might have ships waiting to attack in Cartagena, Colombia.
The British were involved with the war, but Cartagena was only supposed to be a quick stop to repair the ship before it got to Spain.
How The British Defeated The Galleon
The ship’s captain kept sailing to Cartagena, even though he knew it would be risky. On the evening of June 8, 1708, the British Navy was ready to attack.
They were armed with pistols, swords, and knives and tried three times to board the galleon and take it as their own.
When Things Went Wrong
In June of 1708, the San Jose was tasked to travel from the Spanish colonies of Latin America to Spain.
There were approximately 600 men onboard the ship heading to the court of King Philip V. However, trouble struck during their journey. A British Navy fleet sunk the San Jose and only a handful of the men survived.
The San Jose Was Defeated
The San Jose was beating the British Navy in the battle but the shape of the ship started to deteriorate.
A curator at the Naval Museum of the Caribbean believes that the San Jose either lost a sail, or the passengers revolted against the orders of the captain. Either way, the ship, and its treasures sank down deep into the ocean.
Flash Forward To 2015
It had been 307 years since the sinking of the San Jose galleon when it was discovered off the coast of Colombia in Cartagena.
Not only was this historic, but after being visited by maritime experts, they revealed there was still a ton of treasure aboard the sunken ship. In fact, it was potentially the largest sunken treasure in history.
A Dispute Over The Treasure
After the discovery of sunken treasure on the San Jose, various countries started arguing about who would be entitled to it all.
The maritime experts called the wreck of the San Jose galleon the “holy grail” of Spanish colonial shipwrecks because of the extremely valuable treasure. Now, it would be time to settle who actually gets to keep it.
Spain Thinks It’s Theirs
Since the ship belonged to Spain during the time it was in production, the country believes they are entitled to the fortune that was abandoned on the ship.
Colombia was technically a colony of Spain, but that was over 300 years ago. Spain has a good argument, but it may not be the best.
Bolivia Staked Claims On The Booty
Bolivia, a country in South America, feels that they are the rightful owners of the sunken treasure from the San Jose.
During the 1500s, an indigenous group in Bolivia called the Qhara Qhara were forced to mine materials from the world’s largest mine. Those materials were part of the treasure on the ship.
Should It Go To Colombia?
One of the main reasons why Colombia wants to keep the sunken treasure is because their government considers the shipwreck to be a “national treasure.”
The government wants to build a museum in Cartagena to display the shipwreck with all of its treasure. They believe it will contribute to the history of Colombia.
The Rules Of Excavation
While these three countries believe they are each entitled to the treasure, they need to follow precedents in order to actually acquire it.
According to a Colombian presidential decree, “companies or individuals interested in excavating the ship will have to sign a contract with the state and submit a detailed inventory of their finds to the government as well as plans for handling the goods.”
Why People Are Obsessed With The Treasure
Plenty of rules had to be set in place in order for people to start excavating the ship. This is because of the valuable treasure onboard.
There are guesses that the treasure includes over 200 tons of gold, silver, emeralds, and other precious coins and jewels that equate to over $20 billion. Some experts think the treasure may be priceless.
A Reason Not To Touch It
While the promise of priceless jewels and other valuables seems too good to be true, others think it should be left alone.
Archaeologist Justin Leidwanger said, “It makes it very touchy because one is not supposed to intervene in war graves. Can you pluck treasure off the seabed without disturbing a war grave? I doubt you can…”
The Cost Of Salvaging The Ship
Colombia plans on salvaging the San Jose because it was found there, but it won’t be cheap.
It’s estimated that a full salvage operation on the wreckage will cost the country about $70 million to carry out. The San Jose is at a depth of between two thousand and 3,200 feet.
How The San Jose Was Recognized
While no humans have ventured underwater to explore the shipwreck yet, it was actually found through autonomous underwater vehicles.
These vehicles brought back photos of dolphin-stamped bronze cannons that were still well-preserved. The dolphins on the bronze helped the maritime experts conclude that this was in fact the San Jose galleon.
Sea Search Armada Almost Scored The Treasure
The rights of the sunken treasure are still being disputed, but one company almost got it. While the San Jose discovery wasn’t announced until 2015, the Sea Search Armada claimed to have found it in 1982.
The company said they knew the San Jose’s resting place was 700 feet below the water’s surface and were entitled to 50 percent of their findings.
Colombia Overturned A Well-Established Maritime Law
The Sea Search Armada found the San Jose in 1982, which would’ve entitled them to at least 50 percent of the treasure.
However, Colombia’s government overturned the well-established law in 1984 and only gave the company a five percent “finder’s fee.” American investors went to federal court, but the case was dismissed and the ruling was affirmed.
The San Jose Is Quite Famous
Many people across South America and Spain had actually heard of the San Jose before the shipwreck was announced.
Nobel prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote about the galleon in the novel Love in the Time of Cholera. The protagonist of the book planned to dive down to retrieve the riches from the ship for his love interest.
There’s A Lot Of History To Unpack
While it isn’t certain who will get the sunken treasure, there is still a lot to appreciate about this shipwreck.
“The San Jose galleon is an epicenter of information about colonial [history]. It’s representative of almost 300 years of colonial [history] from Europe, and particularly from Spain, about the American territory,” said Ernesto Montenegro, a director of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History.