Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos announced on Friday that his country has found a very important and valuable shipwreck near the city of Cartagena. This particular ship, the San Jose, is a Spanish boat that was filled with treasure when it sank off of Colombia’s coast more than 300 years ago.
To announce the discovery, Santos tweeted out, “Great news! We have found the San Jose galleon.”
Treasure hunters and historians have described the San Jose as “the holy grail of shipwrecks.” The ship was transporting one of the largest caches of valuables ever lost at sea. In fact, it is estimated that it was carrying treasure worth between $4 to $17 billion.
The famous ship was moving diamonds, gold, silver, rubies, emeralds and other gems collected throughout the South American colonies. The treasure was making its way to Spain to help its king finance his war against British rule. En route, English Commodore Charles Wager and his British warship tracked and located the treasure-filled ship about 16 miles off the coast of Cartagena and launched an attack. In the fighting, it was reported that the ship exploded – killing most of its crew. The ship sank in over 1,000 feet of water in June of 1708.
Historians believe that the San Jose is just one of more than 1,000 merchant ships and galleons that sank along the coral reefs of Colombia during more than three hundred years of colonial rule.
Yet, ownership of the San Jose’s treasures has been at the heart of a long-running legal battle. Interestingly, when the Colombian government announced that it found the San Jose, it did not mention its years-long legal quarrel with United States-based salvage company, the Sea Search Armada (SSA).
Back in 1981, a group now owned by SSA found the area where the ship sank. At the time, SSA and the Colombian government were partners and they agreed, according to international custom, to split any recovered proceeds. But later, the government said that 100% of any treasure would belong to Colombia.
The United States legal system agreed with Colombia. In 2011 a U.S. court held that the San Jose was property of the South American country.
The wreck is considered an underwater cultural heritage site as defined by the United Nations.
President Santos said that he would give additional details about the discovery on Saturday.