In 1708, the British attacked a Spanish galleon called the San Jose, killing its crew and sending the ship and its massive shipment of treasure to the bottom of the Caribbean sea. On Friday, Colombia announced that divers discovered the “holy grail” shipwreck off its coast.
The discovery of the San Jose is being called the holy grail of shipwrecks because the galleon has a $1 billion worth of emeralds and gold and silver coins, making it the biggest sunken treasure in the world, the BBC reported.
For now, the submerged riches will remain on the bottom of the sea and it will take years to recover, Colombia’s president Juan Manuel Santos said, according to ABC News. No human has yet visited the site, only autonomous underwater vehicles that snapped pictures of dolphin-stamped bronze cannons that prove the shipwreck is the San Jose.
Though Santos said the actual location for the holy grail shipwreck will remain a state secret he plans to personally safeguard, he did hint that it was found near the Rosario Islands archipelago, near an island called Baru.
The shipwreck was found on Nov. 27 with the help of an international team of experts.
The San Jose was carrying gold, silver, gems, and jewelry collected in the South American colonies and headed to King Philip V, then at war with the British in the War of Spanish Succession, BBC explained. Spain needed the treasure to fund the war.
On June, 8, 1708, a fleet of British warships chased the San Jose in the Caribbean, outside the port city of Cartagena. Making the orders was English Commodore Charles Wager, who tracked down the ship 16 miles from the coast and sank it in 1,000 feet of water.
It’s believed most of a crew of 600 people were killed. At the time, reports suggested that the galleon exploded in the fighting. The San Jose was one of 1,000 galleons and merchant ships that sank near Colombia’s coral reefs during Spain’s 300 years of colonial rule.
In the decades and centuries afterward, the shipwreck earned its holy grail status because the ship was carrying the most treasure ever known to have been lost at sea. Colombian officials intend to house the loot in a museum, once it’s all been lugged to the surface.
Santos said the find “constitutes one of the greatest – if not the biggest, as some say – discoveries of submerged patrimony in the history of mankind.”
That’s probably why the holy grail shipwreck has been the center the holy grail of legal battles, pitted between Colombia and an American shipwreck salvage company, Reuters added. They’ve squabbled in the courts for decades over who gets to keep the loot.
This tussle was notably out of Santos’ speech about the discovery and no new information about the state of that disagreement was released.
It all started back in 1982, when Sea Search Armada announced it found the holy grail of shipwrecks 700 feet beneath the surface of the water (take note that this is a very different location from the one where the president said it was found).
At the time, the South American nation and the private company were partners. Maritime law long-ago held that whomever finds a shipwreck is entitled to half the treasure, and two years after SSA found it, Colombia balked at tradition and slashed SSA’s take to a 5 percent “finder’s fee.”
A legal wrangling has persisted in the years after. SSA has sued, claiming billions of dollars for breach of contract. In 2011, an American court dismissed their suit and ruled that the shipwreck’s treasure belonged to Colombia.
The ruling has stuck ever since and the country’s supreme court just ordered the ship to be recovered before the fight over the booty could be resolved.
[Photo by McCarthy’s PhotoWorks/Shutterstock]