My Posts

Colombia Wants to Retrieve Hidden Shipwreck Treasure

By Orgesta Tolaj


19 December 2023

Shipwreck treasure

© Katherine McCormack / Unsplash

Who knew pirate treasures were real? The diamonds, chains, rubies, and doubloons are all buried deep into the ocean beneath us. But, is there any way to actually get to it? Well, the Colombian government is trying to do so. They are planning a mission to retrieve some shipwreck treasure. However, hunting for a treasure that many know exists, is a tougher mission than you might think.

Hidden Shipwreck Treasure

The Colombian government, led by President Gustavo Petro, has initiated a mission to retrieve the sunken ship San José, a three-century-old Spanish galleon believed to contain a treasure worth $20 billion. Dubbed the “Holy Grail of shipwrecks,” the vessel is located on the floor of the Caribbean Sea. President Petro has directed his administration to expedite the recovery process.

© Presidencia de la República – Colombia

President Gustavo Petro aims to bring the 62-gun, three-masted ship, San José, to the surface before his term concludes in 2026. To achieve this, he has proposed the formation of a public-private partnership, seeking collaboration to facilitate the retrieval process, as mentioned by Minister of Culture Juan David Correa.

But, Who Really Owns the Shipwreck Treasure?

The controversy surrounding the treasure revolves around the disputed ownership of the San José galleon. This significant historical artifact sank on June 8, 1708, during a fierce battle against the British in the War of the Spanish Succession. The ship, boasting a crew of 600, was constructed in 1698 by Duke Arístides Eslava and served as the flagship of Spain’s treasure fleet. Its crucial role involved transporting gems and precious metals between Peru and Spain during the war.

San José’s final voyage in 1708 involved a departure from Panama to Cartagena, alongside two other galleons and 14 merchant vessels. Laden with gold, silver, and emeralds mined in Bolivia, the ship played a pivotal role in bankrolling Spain’s war efforts against the British. However, the fleet, after docking for the night on the island of Barú off the coast of Cartagena, encountered four British warships.

© Joseph Barrientos / Unsplash

History Agrees

A fierce gun battle ensued, lasting into the twilight hours. While one of the galleons, the San Joaquin, managed to escape unscathed under the cover of nightfall, the Santa Cruz was later captured but contained few valuables. The San José, unfortunately, suffered catastrophic damage when its powder magazine exploded after being struck by British gunfire. As a result, it swiftly descended beneath the sea’s surface, leading to the tragic loss of all but 11 of its crew.

The dispute over the ownership of the treasure, estimated to be worth between $4 billion and $20 billion, continues to unfold, adding an intriguing layer to the historical narrative surrounding the San José and its valuable cargo.

For years, the sunken San José galleon remained a legendary mystery, as its precise location eluded discovery.

So, Who Discovered the Shipwreck Treasure?

In 1981, the US company Glocca Morra asserted that it had located the sunken San José treasure and provided its coordinates to Colombia, expecting half of the fortune upon recovery. However, in 2015, Colombia’s navy, under then-President Juan Manuel Santos, claimed to have found the San José wreck at a different location on the sea floor. Despite never disclosing the exact coordinates, Sea Search Armada, formerly known as Glocca Morra, contends that Colombia might have discovered part of the same debris field it identified 34 years earlier.

© Presidencia de la República – Colombia

Sea Search Armada, formerly Glocca Morra, is suing the Colombian government for $10 billion, representing half of the estimated treasure’s value, under the US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement. The company claims to have discovered the treasure’s location in 1981. However, Colombia’s Minister of Culture, Juan David Correa, stated that the government’s researchers visited the coordinates provided by Sea Search Armada and determined that there was no shipwreck at that location. The legal dispute adds complexity to the quest for the San José treasure.

Who do you think should be entitled to the treasure?

You might also want to read: This Flea Market Painting Turned From $4 to $2.4 Million

Orgesta Tolaj

Your favorite introvert who is buzzing around the Hive like a busy bee!