The Holy Grail of shipwrecks – the San José – which was sunk by the British near the port City of Cartagena in Colombia in 1708, has been found, according to a tweet posted by Columbia’s president Juan Manuel Santos.
President Santos wrote:
“Great news! We have found the Galleon San José! Tomorrow I will give you more details during a press conference at Cartagena.” (“Gran noticia: ¡Encontramos el Galeon San José! Mañana daré los detalles en rueda de prensa desde Cartagena.”)
The sunken ship, which many have described as the Holy Grail of shipwrecks, was discovered off the coast near the city of Cartagena. For obvious reasons, Columbian officials have not announced the shipwreck’s precise coordinates.
The tweet posted by Colombia’s President, Juan Manuel Santos. (Image: twitter.com/JuanManSantos)
Greatest treasure ever to be lost at sea
It is believed to have been carrying the greatest value in treasures ever to be lost at sea.
According to President Santos, within the ship there are treasures worth at least one billion dollars in gold, gems, jewellery, silver and other priceless items gathered from the South American colonies, to be shipped to Philip V (Felipe V), the King of Spain, to help finance his super-expensive War of Succession against the British and Dutch.
The War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) broke out when King Charles II (Carlos II) of Spain died with no heir. The war was fought between the Holy Roman Empire and France on one side, and England and the Dutch Republic on the other.
According to President Santos, the find:
“Constitutes one of the greatest – if not the largest, as some say – discoveries of sunken heritage (patrimony) in the history of humankind.”
Although it is still early days, rumours in the Colombian press say there are plans to build a museum in Cartagena dedicated exclusively to the treasures contained in the shipwreck.
Who owns the treasure?
There has been a long-running legal row regarding ownership of the ship and its contents. Given how much it is worth, lawyers are bound be thinking of the millions they could earn in the courts fighting from every angle possible.
An artist’s impression of the galleon San José, which was sunk by the British in 1708. (Image: elespanol.com)
Neither President Ramos nor anyone from the Colombian Government mentioned this long-running dispute with Sea Search Armada (SSA), a US-based salvage company regarding who the treasure legally belongs to.
It is claimed that in 1981, SSA located the area where the ship had been sunk. A long-standing dispute involving billions of dollars for an alleged failure of consideration festered until a US court ruled in 2011 that the galleon (and presumably its treasure) was the property of the Colombian state.
A failure of consideration occurs when a party in a contract fails to fulfill their end of the deal.
As the shipwreck appears to have been found in Columbian waters, SSA’s case looks rather weak.
The official website of the President of Colombia quotes President Ramos as saying:
“I feel very pleased, as head of state, to inform all Colombians, that without any doubt, we have found the galleon San Jose 307 after it was sunk.” (“Me siento muy complacido, como Jefe de Estado, de informar a los colombianos que sin lugar a dudas, sin lugar a ningún tipo de duda, hemos encontrado, 307 años después de su hundimiento, el Galeón San José”)
The President, after consulting with Ernesto Montenegro, Director of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History (Instituto Colombiano de Antropología E Historia), said he was completely sure the find was of the galleon San José.
Ernesto Montenegro said:
“The presence of specifically carved bronze canons, designed especially for the Galleon San Jose, the number of guns and the type of materials that we have been finding, Mr. President, leave me with no doubt about the identity of the archaeological site.” (“La presencia de los cañones de bronce tallados específicamente, fundidos para el Galeón San José, la cantidad de cañones y el tipo de materiales que venimos encontrando, señor Presidente, no dejan ninguna duda al respecto de la identidad del yacimiento arqueológico.”)