Billion-dollar mission to explore ‘holy grail of shipwrecks’ at bottom of the Caribbean


The ‘holy grail’ of shipwrecks remains at the bottom of the ocean stocked with billions of gold and jewels – but the Colombian government has claimed it for itself.

The legendary San Jose galleon, which sank off Colombia’s Caribbean coast over three centuries ago, is believed to hold $20 billion in gold, silver and emeralds.

Colombia declared the site a ‘protected archeological area’ and has now launched an undersea expedition to assess ‘long-term preservation and the development of research, conservation and valuation activities’ needed to secure the historic find.

The first stage of this process will focus on imaging the ship via ‘non-intrusive’ remote sensors, according to the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History.

The institute added that results of this fact-finding mission could pave the way for future explorations, which could recover archaeological materials from the wreck.

The equipment used for searching of the remains of the galleon San Jose submerged almost 3,100 feet under the Colombian Caribbean Sea. It was operated by naval officials

The equipment used for searching of the remains of the galleon San Jose submerged almost 3,100 feet under the Colombian Caribbean Sea. It was operated by naval officials

Researchers with the institute explained that they intend to deploy an underwater vessel equipped with sonar-like acoustic positioning technologies, as well as a submersible drone to explore the depths of the site.

‘This government is doing something that is unprecedented,’ according to Colombia’s Culture Minister Juan David Correa, ‘exploring the sinking of the galleon as the possibility of understanding history and culture.’

The boat, dubbed the ‘holy grail’ of shipwrecks because of its abundant treasure, was heading back from the New World to the court of King Philip V of Spain when it plummeted to the bottom of the ocean.

The 62-gun galleon was sailing from Portobelo in Panama at the head of a treasure fleet of 14 merchant vessels and three Spanish warships when it encountered the British squadron near Barú.

The San Jose was a 62-gun galleon that went down on June 8, 1708, with 600 people on board

The San Jose was a 62-gun galleon that went down on June 8, 1708, with 600 people on board

An intact Chinese dinner set and other crockery were amongst the ship's treasures

An intact Chinese dinner set and other crockery were amongst the ship’s treasures

In 2015, the Colombian government announced that a team of navy divers had discovered the legendary ship lying in nearly 3,100 feet of water.

Colombia announced the discovery of the San Jose that same year – but by that point, it had already caught the eye of adventurers.

Last year, another team brought back jaw-dropping images of its perfectly preserved cargo.

The Colombian government previously claimed that the ship would be raised before President Gustavo Petro ends his term of office in 2026.

However, there is set to be a grand fight over who owns the ship – with a US firm claiming that it discovered the vessel and is demanding a portion of the treasure.

The Spanish government and an indigenous group are also claiming ownership of the shipwreck.

Gold coins were also picked up on the video released by the Colombian government

Gold coins were also picked up on the video released by the Colombian government

Colombian Culture Minister Juan David Correa said the first attempt would be a 'dry run' for retrieving the rest of the treasure and the ship itself

Colombian Culture Minister Juan David Correa said the first attempt would be a ‘dry run’ for retrieving the rest of the treasure and the ship itself

The San Jose galleon was owned by the Spanish crown when it was sunk by the British Navy near Cartagena in 1708, and only 11 of its 600-strong crew survived

The San Jose galleon was owned by the Spanish crown when it was sunk by the British Navy near Cartagena in 1708, and only 11 of its 600-strong crew survived

American research company Glocca Morra claims it found the San Jose in 1981 and turned the coordinates over to the Colombians on the condition it would receive half the fortune once the vessel was recovered. 

But the company’s claim was countered in 2015 by Colombia’s then-President Juan Manuel Santos, who said the Navy had found the boat at a different location on the seabed.

Glocca Morra, now called Sea Search Armada, is suing for half the treasure – around $10bn according to current estimates – under the US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement, according to Bloomberg.

But the Colombian Minister of Culture Juan David Correa said the government’s team had visited the coordinates given by Sea Search Armada and found no trace of the San Jose.

Complicating matters further, there are competing claims from the Spanish – whose Navy the vessel belonged to – and Bolivia’s indigenous Qhara Qhara nation which says its people were forced to mine the gold and jewels, so the treasures belong to them.

Meanwhile, Colombia has hailed the find as a huge historic and cultural achievement.

Correa told Bloomberg: ‘This is one of the priorities for the Petro administration. The president has told us to pick up the pace.’

WHAT WAS THE SAN JOSE GALLEON AND WHY DID IT SINK? 

The San Jose was a 62-gun, three-masted galleon that went down on June 8, 1708, with 600 people on board

It was one of many Spanish galleons that made trips between Europe and the Americas between the 16th and 18th Century

When it sank, the San Jose was transporting plundered gold, silver, emeralds and other precious stones and metals from the Americans back to Spain

This wealth was helping finance Spain’s war of succession against Britain

The ship gained a reputation as the ‘holy grail’ of shipwrecks and was carrying one of the most valuable hauls of treasure ever lost at sea – worth around £12.6 billion ($17 billion)

It was found submerged off the coast of Baru in what is now Colombia, near the Rosario Islands by a team of international experts, the Colombian Navy and the country’s archaeology institute

Why did it sink?

The San Jose galleon was sailing from Portobelo, Panama as the flagship of a treasure fleet of 14 merchant vessels and three Spanish warships when it encountered a British squadron 

The San Jose was tracked down 16 miles (26km) off Cartagena, near Barú, by English Commodore Charles Wager from the Royal Navy on 8 June 1708

A fight ensued, known as ‘Wager’s Action’

Sources say that Wager initially planned to take control of the Spanish ship’s crew and cargo

However, the powder magazines on San Jose detonated, destroying the treasure-laden ship before it could be captured

Most of the 600 souls aboard perished when the vessel sank

The British prevented the Spanish fleet from transporting the gold and silver to Europe in order to fund further war efforts but the loot would have been vast if they had managed to capture the ship

 



Read More

Leave a comment

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More