Colombia seeks to reclaim billions in riches from the famed shipwreck known as the ‘holy grail’.

The government of Colombia has declared its intention to recover items from the 1708 sinking of the galleon San José, which is believed to hold a valuable cargo worth billions of dollars.

The 300-year-old sunken ship, often referred to as the “ultimate prize of shipwrecks”, has stirred up controversy due to its significance in both the fields of archaeology and economics.

The Minister of Culture in Colombia, Juan David Correa, announced that initial efforts will take place in the months of April and May, contingent upon the state of the Caribbean Sea. Correa has promised that this will be a research expedition.

After meeting with President Gustavo Petro, Correa stated that this is not a treasure, but an archaeological wreck. They believe that this presents a chance for their country to lead in underwater archaeological research.

The ship is thought to contain approximately 11 million gold and silver coins, emeralds, and other valuable goods from Spanish colonies. If retrieved, these items could potentially be worth billions of dollars.

Correa stated that the substance retrieved from the sunken vessel, most likely through the use of robotic or submersible vehicles, would be brought onto a naval vessel for examination. Depending on the findings, a subsequent attempt may be planned.

Over 300 years ago, the San José galleon was sunk during a battle with British ships. In 2015, it was found but has since been embroiled in legal and diplomatic conflicts.

In 2018, the Colombian government decided not to proceed with their plans to dig up the wreckage due to conflicts with a private company that cites a salvage agreement from the 1980s with the Colombian government.

In 2018, the United Nations cultural organization urged Colombia to refrain from profiting off the shipwreck.

A committee of Unesco experts responsible for safeguarding underwater cultural relics wrote a letter to Colombia expressing their worry that retrieving the treasure for profit instead of preserving its historical significance “would result in the permanent loss of valuable heritage.”

The letter stated that permitting the commercial use of Colombia’s cultural artifacts goes against the highest scientific guidelines and international ethical values, as outlined in the UNESCO Underwater Cultural Heritage Convention.

Colombia has yet to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which would hold it accountable to global regulations and oblige it to notify Unesco of its intentions for the sunken vessel.

The wreck was discovered three years ago with the help of an international team of experts and autonomous underwater vehicles, and its exact location is a state secret. The ship sank somewhere in the wide area off Colombia’s Baru peninsula, south of Cartagena, in the Caribbean Sea.

There has been a legal dispute in the United States, Colombia, and Spain regarding the ownership of the sunken treasure from the ship.

According to reports, the San José was a ship with three decks, measuring 150 feet (45 meters) in length and 45 feet (14 meters) in width. It was equipped with 64 guns.

Researchers in Colombia have discovered well-preserved bronze cannons, as well as ceramic and porcelain vases and personal weapons.

According to the researchers, the characteristics of the cannons provide clear evidence that the shipwreck belongs to the San José.


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