Deep in the Caribbean, an 'Unprecedented' Mission Is Underway

Colombian government begins exploring Spain's San Jose galleon, the 'holy grail of shipwrecks'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 27, 2024 8:40 AM CDT
Updated Jun 1, 2024 11:40 AM CDT
Exploration Has Begun on 'Holy Grail of Shipwrecks'
This November 2015 photo shows ceramic jars and other items from the 300-year-old shipwreck of the Spanish galleon San Jose, on the floor of the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Colombia.   (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution via AP)

In June of 1708, the Spanish galleon San Jose was attacked by the British Royal Navy and sank in the Caribbean off the coast of Cartagena, resting on the ocean floor with a reputed $20 billion in treasure on board. Only a handful of the 600 or so men on the ship survived. In 2015, the Colombian government finally found the sunken vessel, dubbed the "holy grail of shipwrecks," and now, Colombia has declared the site around the ship a protected archaeological area and is starting to explore the ruins, reports the BBC.

  • Expedition: The initial phase of the Colombian government's explorations of the secret site will involve remote sensors taking pictures of the doomed ship and as much of its contents as possible for inventory purposes, while sea-capable robots will also take readings around the San Jose.

  • Who claims it? The rights to the artifacts thought to be on the San Jose are under "heated dispute," reports CNN, which notes the 62-gun ship had been on its way from Panama to Colombia, supposedly bearing gold, silver, gems, and other valuables from Peru that were eventually meant for King Philip V of Spain. In addition to Colombia, Spain itself has previously laid claims to the ship, as has Sea Search Armada, a US-based marine salvage firm. Indigenous Qhara Qhara Bolivians have also tried to claim the riches as their own, per CBS News.
  • Not about the money? "This is not a treasure, we do not treat it as such," Colombian Culture Minister Juan David Correa proclaimed on Wednesday. Instead, he noted, "this government is doing something that is unprecedented ... exploring the sinking of the galleon as the possibility of understanding history and culture."
(More shipwrecks stories.)

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