Colombia to Salvage $17 Billion Treasure From Sunken Spanish Galleon San José

Colombian officials have released never-before-seen photos of a sunken Spanish galleon laden with treasure.
colombia treasure ship

The Colombian army led by the ministry of culture has recently successfully performed four observation missions using a remotely controlled drone. According to a statement published by the Colombian army on Monday 6, 2022, the automated vehicle was used to dive about 950 meters (3100 feet) deep, where the wreck was discovered.

After examination, the ministry of culture in Columbia confirmed that the ship has been untouched by human hands since it was sunk 300 years ago by the Royal Navy.

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Credit: Colombian presidency via YouTube screen capture

Photos released to the press from the underwater wreck site show a cannon partially covered by mud and some ornamentals and remains of utensils like pottery, porcelain ceramics, gold pieces, and glass bottles. From the photos, we clearly see the abandoned state of the wreck as part of the bow has been covered with algae, shellfish, and remains from the hull’s frame.


Potential to discover more treasures in Colombian waters

According to the ministry of culture, two other shipwrecks – a schooner from the post-colonial period and a colonial-era galleon were also discovered during the expedition. In a public speech concerning the discovery, President Iván Duque Márquez says, “Thanks to the technological equipment and the Colombian navy’s work, we managed to capture images with a level of precision that’s never been seen before.” 

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Credit: Colombian presidency via YouTube screen capture

Although he was optimistic about the discovery, he was also keen to state that the wreck won’t be brought out from the sea immediately but would be protected for retrieval on a future date which he didn’t disclose either. Meanwhile, we can understand his decision as what happens to any valuables in the shipwreck will be up for ownership debate by countries like Spain and Bolivia.

Treasure lost for over three centuries

According to existing historical records, the San Jose galleon, which was owned by the Spanish crown, was sunk near Cartagena by the British navy in 1708 when the ship was sailing home from the new world to the court of King Philip V of Spain.

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Credit: Colombian presidency via YouTube screen capture

The ship is rumored to contain at least 200 tons of gold, silver, and emeralds, and records can confirm that the ship contained treasures worth billions of dollars in today’s world. More so, there have been numerous attempts by treasure hunters to discover the lost ship, but none was successful.

While that’s the case, there seems to be a conflict of interest with two other countries – Spain and Bolivia. While Colombia considers wrecks found in her territorial waters as part of her cultural heritage, Spain seems to demand ownership of the bounty because it was lost from a wrecked Spanish ship. At the same time, Bolivia Qhara Qhara claims that the treasures should be returned to them as their people were originally forced by the Spanish to mine them.

Colombia hopes to preserve their cultural heritage

In 2015 when the shipwreck was first discovered, former Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos was astonished to see that it was the most precious treasure ever found in the history of the world. There were preparations made for a recovery mission; however, it was stopped seeing that countries like Spain and Bolivia could contest for the treasure; they decided it was best for the wreck and its treasures to remain within the waters of Colombia.


In addition, Colombian currently plans to create a museum of shipwrecks to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the country to the world. There are still 13 other wreck sites off the coast of Cartagena waiting to be explored by the Colombian Ministry of culture. However, recovering items from any shipwreck is subject to technological challenges due to its immense depth.

Featured image: San-Jose by Samuel Scott under CC BY-SA 3.0