Colombia Starts Exploration Of Treasure Ship Sunk By Royal Navy In 1708.

Samuel Scott’s painting Wager’s Action off Cartagena, 28 May 1708 (around 1743-47), shows the San José sinking Wikimedia Commons
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The Colombian government has started exploring the most valuable shipwreck in the world using a remote controlled submersible.
The San Jose galleon, sank in 1708 while laden with gold, silver and emeralds estimated to be worth billions of dollars. The 316-year-old wreck, often called the “holy grail” of shipwrecks, has been controversial, because it is both an archaeological and economic treasure.

 

Culture Minister Juan David Correa said that more than eight years after the discovery of the wreck off Colombia’s coast, an underwater robot would be sent to recover some of its bounty.

The robot is expected to extract some items from “the surface of the galleon” to see “how they materialize when they come out (of the water) and to understand what we can do” to recover the rest of the treasures, said Correa.

The operation will cost more than $4.5 million and the robot will work at a depth of 600 meters to remove items such as ceramics, pieces of wood and shells “without modifying or damaging the wreck,” Correa told AFP aboard a large naval ship.

The South American nation has also declared a protected archaeological area around the San José galleon – which was sunk by the British Royal Navy in 1708 in the Caribbean Sea.

The exact location of the wreck is being kept a secret to avoid intruders and gawkers.

The ship, whose ownership remains contested, was carrying one of the largest hauls of valuables ever lost at sea when it was attacked just outside of the Colombian city of Cartagena.

It is estimated to be laden with as much as £16bn ($20bn) in treasure.

At the time, the vessel had been transporting its precious cargo to the Spanish king to help pay for his war against the British. Almost 600 crew members went down with it.

The first stage of the research project – described as a “characterisation phase” – will use remote sensors to generate images of the site to build an inventory of the archaeological material on the seabed.

Underwater robots will also take readings around the shipwreck, which will be used to inform academic studies, the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History said.

Subsequent phases will depend on what comes to light in this first phase of the project, it added.

The title of the project translates as “towards the heart of the San José galleon”.

Juan David Correa, Colombia’s culture minister, described the exploratory expedition as “unprecedented”.

The Colombian government has said the declaration of the site as a protected area would allow for it to be preserved, given its “high scientific and heritage value”.

Colombia announced the discovery of the wreckage in 2015 – but it is subject to longstanding legal disputes over who owns the contents of the ship.

The San José lies more than 2,000ft below the surface (some reports say up to 3,100ft). At that depth, the ship is inaccessible to human exploration.

The Colombian navy used a remotely operated underwater vehicle to examine the wreck in 2015 and has kept its precise location a secret ever since, presumably because it is unable to raise the ship on its own and afraid of booty-seeking pirates.

But President Petro, who came to power in 2022, wants to recover the treasure and is looking to commercial salvage companies for bids on the shipwreck. Because of the cost of such an endeavour, these businesses are likely to be based in the US or Europe—perhaps even oil companies familiar with deep-water projects.

US salvage company, Sea Search Armada, is one of the parties laying claim to it, as Spain has previously done, as well as the descendants of the indigenous people who worked in the mines to extract the treasures.

The Colombian government has said no archaeological excavations are planned in the initial stage of the project.

Sources: BBC.
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