Inside the ‘holy grail’ shipwreck being pulled up from the ocean

A race is underway to recover the shipwreck, with questions pending over who will claim its treasure, writes Martha McHardy

Wednesday 28 February 2024 04:20
Comments
<p>The ship sank along with its treasures which are believed to be worth up to $20billion in today’s money</p>

The ship sank along with its treasures which are believed to be worth up to $20billion in today’s money

A Spanish galleon described as “the Holy Grail of shipwrecks” is set to be raised from the ocean floor - along with its treasures which are believed to be worth up to $20bn in today’s money.

The Colombian government said the San Jose, which was sunk by the British navy in 1708 off the port of Cartagena,will be brought above water before President Gustavo Petro ends his term of office in 2026.

The ship was a 64-gun, three-masted galleon of the Spanish Armada.

It is thought to have sunk with a huge amount of treasure aboard, including 200 tonnes of silver, emeralds and eleven million gold coins.

Now, a race is underway to recover the shipwreck, with questions pending over who will claim its treasure.

‘Holy Grail of Shipwrecks’ to be raised from ocean bed

What do we know about the shipwreck?

The San Jose was built in 1698 for one of the most lucrative trade lanes ever devised in the history of shipping.

The ship was part of a convoy of ships known as the “Spanish treasure fleet,” which transported gold, silver and gems from Latin American colonies back to Spain, creating vast wealth for Spain’s contested ruler, King Philip of Anjou, and his war effort.

Many of the treasures on board the San José were taken from Colombian and Peruvian mines using slave labor, Insider reported.

The ship sank along with its treasures which are believed to be worth up to $20billion in today’s money

But during a prolonged battle off Cartagena with the British, the ship sank.

The San Jose was found lying nearly 3,100 feet below the ocean’s surface in 2015, according to the Colombian government.

Despite sitting on the ocean floor for more than 300 years, much of the ship is still thought to be perfectly preserved, according to pictures taken of the wreck by Navy divers last year.

The images also show a part of the bow covered in algae and shellfish, as well as the remains of the frame of the hull.

Navy divers discovered valuable treasures aboard the shipwreck, including gold ingots and coins, as well as the ship’s muddy cannons made in Seville in 1655, and an intact Chinese dinner service. Porcelain crockery, pottery and glass bottles were also found aboard the ship.

Colombian Minister of Culture Juan David Correa told Bloomberg that recovering the ship within the next two years is now a priority for President Petro. “The president has told us to pick up the pace,” he said.

He added that when the wreck’s treasures are recovered, they will be studied thoroughly before they are transported to a national museum.

What treasure does the San Jose contain?

The San Jose is thought to have been carrying 200 tonnes of silver, emeralds and eleven million gold coins at the time that it sank.

The treasure’s value is thought to total up to $20bn in today’s money.

The San Jose was discovered by a team of navy divers in 2015

Eleven million gold coins are thought to have been on board

When it sank, the San Jose was transporting plundered gold, silver, emeralds and other precious stones and metals from the Americans back to Spain.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said the ship’s treasure is “the most valuable that has been found in the history of humanity.”

Who will get the treasure?

When the shipwreck is recovered, it is expected that there will be a dispute over who should lay claim to the bounty.

The ship was lost to history until 1981 when a US salvage consortium called Glocca Morra claimed to have located the San Jose.

But the Colombian government has disputed this, claiming it independently found the galleon with a team of divers in 2015, at a different location, which remains secret.

The San Jose galleon was owned by the Spanish crown when it was sunk by the British Navy in 1708

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

Glocca Morra has claimed it is owed $10bn by the Colombian government and said it has handed over the coordinates of the shipwreck to the Colombian authorities.

The company are suing the Colombian government for half the treasure and the arbitration case is currently being heard in London, according to Bloomberg.

However, Mr Correa said the government’s team had visited the coordinates given by the company and found no trace of the San Jose.

Spain and Bolivia’s indigenous Qhara Qhara nation also claim ownership over the ship after, they said, the Spanish forced their people to mine the metals used in the treasure.

What happened to San Jose?

The San Jose sank after it was intercepted by a British squadron on 8 June 1708 off Cartagena, during the War of the Spanish Succession.

During the battle, which lasted for over an hour, the ship’s powder magazine detonated, causing it to sink.

There were 600 sailors on board, all but 11 of whom went down with the ship.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in