San Jose, the 18th-century Spanish galleon has been described as the holy grail of shipwrecks as it contained one of the most valuable hauls of treasure ever lost at sea. It was found three years ago off the coast of Columbia. The latest details about the discovery of the wreck have emerged that it contained $17 billion worth of treasure.
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) claims that the San Jose was located by an underwater autonomous robot, REMUS 6000, the same robot that helped find the wreckage of Air France 447 in 2011. It used sonar to find the San Jose in more than 2,000 feet of water.
WHOI was quiet about its involvement in the discovery out of respect for the Columbian government and the exact location of the shipwreck still has not been revealed as there is a dispute regarding who owns the wealth of treasures on board. “We’ve been holding this under wraps out of respect for the Colombian government,” said Rob Munier, WHOI’s vice president for marine facilities and operations.
The Spanish galleon was carrying a treasure of gold, silver, and emeralds back to Spain to help finance the war of succession in Britain when it went down during a battle with British ships in the War of Spanish Succession on June 8, 1708, with 600 people and the treasure on board.
The wreck was found in 2015 and there are disputes on who owns the treasure. Several weeks ago, UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, called on Colombia not to commercially exploit the wreck, whose exact location is still unknown. The REMUS 6000 autonomous robot descended to 30 feet above the wreck and took several photographs as key visual evidence. The latest details have been released on Monday with permission from the agencies involved in the search.
“The wreck was partially sediment-covered, but with the camera images from the lower altitude missions, we were able to see new details in the wreckage and the resolution was good enough to make out the decorative carving on the cannons,” said WHOI engineer and expedition leader Mike Purcell.
“It was a pretty strong feeling of gratification to finally find it,” said Mr. Munier, who was not at the site but learned in a phone call from Mr. Purcell. “It was a great moment.” Mr. Santos, the Colombian president, said it was “one of the greatest – if not the biggest, as some say – discoveries of submerged patrimony in the history of mankind.”
The ship was the subject of a legal dispute between Colombia and Sea Search Armada (SSA), a US-based salvage company that claimed to have located the area where the ship sank back in 1981. The Colombian government agreed to split the treasure from the wreckage but has now gone back on its word. We won’t have much information about what will eventually happen to the wreck until the case is resolved.