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The “Holy Grail of shipwrecks” is set to be excavated from its watery doom, according to Bloomberg. With it will come an estimated $20 billion in treasure which is thought to still be on board.
The Colombian government announced an urgent plan to dredge up the San José before President Gustavo Petro’s term ends in 2026. The ship was sunk by the British navy on June 8, 1708, during a skirmish amidst the War of Spanish Succession. The San José sank thousands of feet to the bottom of the Caribbean, taking all but 11 of the 600 souls on board with it. Believed to be still on the ship are 200 tons of silver and emeralds, along with an estimated eleven million gold coins, which, per The Economist, belonged to the viceroy of Peru.
"This is one of the priorities for the Petro administration,” Minister of Culture Juan David Correa told Bloomberg. "The president has told us to pick up the pace."
There is some dispute about who initially discovered the wreck. The Colombian government claims to have discovered it in 1985, but private company Sea Search Armada says they found it in 1981. The government has never released the coordinates of where they discovered the ship, making it difficult for Sea Search Armada to confirm their claims. The company has taken the case to arbitration in a London court, where they’re seeking $10 billion, roughly half of the ship’s treasure.
There are still other parties hoping to get a share of the pie. Spain has claimed some ownership of the bounty, as the San José was a Spanish vessel carrying mostly Spanish passengers. “Peru and Panama also assert ownership because the goods were originally stolen from their lands,” according to Scuba Diving. “Finally, the Bolivian indigenous Qhara Qhara nation wants a percentage because their ancestors, they say, were forced to mine the treasures in the 16th century."
Correa reported to Bloomberg that the government hopes to establish an archaeological lab which would clean, inventory, and study the San José. Ultimately, he says, the wreck will be moved to a national museum.
This is just the latest instance of ancient treasure uncovered in 2023. Last month, it was found that an ancient slab was engraved with a map to a 4,000-year-old bounty. Earlier this year, a man in Kentucky unearthed a treasure trove of gold coins from his cornfield.