The San Jose, a massive Spanish galleon laden with gold, has been found. Or perhaps it might be better to say that the ship wreck, deep in the waters off the coast of Columbia, has been found again. Though the Colombians are claiming that they are the ones who located it, a group of Americans claim they found it first, more than 30 years ago.
The legal battle has lasted much longer than the original naval fight. That began (and ended) when the San Jose tried to reach Spain.
A British ship tracked the San Jose. 16 miles off Cartagena, English Commodore Charles Wager from the Royal Navy found the ship and tried to seize it. A fight ensued. The 62-gun, three-masted galleon, went down on June 8, 1708. 600 sailors died.
Ships full of gold sink fast when their magazines explode, and that’s what happened to the San Jose.
For centuries, no one had the technology to search for the wreckage. Then, in the 1980s, there was a massive boom in the treasure hunting industry. Many wealthy investors ponied up cash so treasure hunters could scour the ocean floor (as well as library collections) looking for traces of gold. And they found it.
An American company called Sea Search Armada (SSA) claimed to have made arrangements with the Colombians to split any find 50/50. In 1981, they found the wreckage.
SSA, though, found it wasn’t as easy to work with the Colombians as they’d hoped. The government claimed the find for themselves, even though they lacked the ability to retrieve any of it.
So why, now, are the Colombians calming they have found the wreckage (supposedly in 2015)? Perhaps it is becasue they have the technology to begin hauling up the gold. $17 billion worth.
And they’re doing it with the help of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).
The WHOI has “The REMUS 6000 – which also helped find the wreckage of Air France 447 in 2011” and the REMUS 6000 “used sonar to find the San Jose in more than 2,000 feet (600 metres) of water,” The Daily Mail writes.
“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 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,” Mike Purcell, WHOI expedition leader, told DM.
“It was a pretty strong feeling of gratification to finally find it,” says Munier. “It was a great moment.”
So who actually owns the salvage rights? The legal battle isn’t over.