Shipwreck Filled With Gold Fuels Legal Battle Over Spanish Treasure Ship Found Off Colombian Coast

A centuries-old shipwreck filled with gold, silver, and gems was discovered at the bottom of the Caribbean. The newfound sunken Spanish treasure ship contains a booty that may be worth upwards of $17 billion. However, a court still has to settle who owns it.

In a related Inquisitr report, another shipwreck that contained some gold, but mostly silver coins, was found in the South Atlantic Ocean — not nearly as old as the Spanish treasure ship found. The SS City of Cairo was sunk in 1942 by a German submarine.

Researchers have recently identified a 300-year-old Spanish treasure ship, named the San Jose, sitting at the bottom of the ocean just off the Colombian coast, laden with gold, silver, and precious gems.

Columbia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos, announced the find via Twitter.


The finding of the shipwreck is fueling an ongoing legal battle between the Colombian government and U.S. treasure hunters. For several years, various lawsuits have been filed to determine who owns the shipwreck and how the gold and other treasure will be divided up.

An American company, Sea Search Armada, contends they found the shipwreck in 1981, and the Colombian government is trying to unlawfully claim the treasure for themselves. According to the company, based in Bellevue, Washington, they won a Colombian Supreme Court ruling that stated the loot would be split 50-50.

Columbia Cultural Minister Mariana Garcés Córdoba doesn’t agree, and says the court ruled in favor of the Colombian government. Even though SSA found the Spanish treasure ship, Colombia claims they rightfully own it.

Managing director of Sea Search, Jack Harbeston, responded in a written statement to CNN.

“It would now appear that the GOC had no intention of good faith implementation of the Colombia Supreme Court ruling by settling with SSA. Their intent seems to be to preempt and make moot SSA’s right to visit its property — while flouting its own laws. The GOC continues in its expropriation of property belonging to U.S citizens in direct violation of its trade agreement with the U.S.”

Harbeston went on to say that Colombian officials even threatened to use the military against the company if need be.

The company also filed two lawsuits in U.S. courts, which were subsequently dismissed. At the time, the find was not confirmed, so the shipwreck was declared Colombian property.

SSA says the shipwreck location off the Colombian coast was marked in 1981, and the site was officially recorded with Colombia in 1982. Despite an agreement in place to give SSA 35 percent of the treasure, the government stopped the company from salvaging the Spanish galleon in 1984.

According to court documents, Colombian law states ownership rights of the shipwreck belong to the government and SSA is only entitled to a 5 percent finder’s fee. The treasure hunters fought back and won a lawsuit in Colombian courts, claiming the law was unconstitutional.

The Barranquilla Circuit Court also ruled that the gold and other valuables were to be split 50-50 between the government and SSA. Supposedly, the Supreme Court of Colombia agreed with the decision, but the legal skirmish is still ongoing.

While the Colombian government and Sea Search Armada continue the fight for legal rights to the shipwreck, gold still sits at the bottom of the ocean. The treasure of the Spanish ship is thought to be worth anywhere between $3 billion and $17 billion, but no one knows for sure.

Shipwreck with gold stting off the coast of Colombia. Gold, silver, and gems worth up to $17 billion are sitting inside the San Jose shipwreck off the coast of Colombia. [Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images]Using colonial archives, weather pattern data, and unique markings found on the shipwreck itself, experts positively identified it as the Spanish galleon San Jose on November 27.

“The amount and type of the material leave no doubt of the identity,” stated Ernesto Montenegro, head of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History.

Now that the Spanish ship’s identity has been verified, SSA will more than likely file another lawsuit with the U.S. court system.

Treasure hunters estimate that at least 1,000 shipwrecks lie underwater off the coast of Colombia. Yet, only very few have any type of gold or treasure contained within their hulls. The sunken Spanish treasure ship found near the northern port city of Cartagena is believed by some to be the biggest shipwreck discovery in history.

[Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]