Holy Grail of Shipwrecks Discovered off Colombia

The government of Colombia has announced that it has discovered the shipwreck of the San José, a galleon that was part of Spain’s King Philip V fleet during the War of the Spanish Succession and has long thought to be holding billions in gold and silver.

The wreck was found near the port city of Cartagena.

The find comes with a side of drama: The Colombian government and an American company called Sea Search Armada (SSA) have been in a dispute about rights to the shipwreck for decades.

SSA has claimed in court filings that it signed an agreement with the government in 1979, which gave it exclusive rights to search for the wreck and split the profits 50-50 with the government. The Guardian has reported that the SSA discovered the general location of the ship in 1981, but two years later, the government issued a decree reducing the firm’s cut to 5 percent. That is when the lawsuits, filed in both the U.S. and Colombia, began.  

The SSA claims a Colombian court ordered of a 50-50 split between the Colombian government and the company, though the government of Colombia contends that it won the case and all rights to the ship and its contents, a claim that Colombian cultural minister Mariana Garcés Córdoba reiterated at a press conference on Dec. 5, according to CNN.

When the San José sank in 1708, it was carrying bullion and coins from Peruvian gold and silver mines  back to Spain.

In a press conference on Dec. 5, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos said the government would build a museum in Cartagena to house the ship’s artifacts.

Santos said the treasure was worth at least $1 billion, but Jack Harbeston, managing director of SSA, told CNN that the firm estimates the treasure on the ship to be worth between $4 billion and $17 billion.

The full announcement, which is in Spanish, is available here.