Colombia to salvage legendary shipwreck

British painter Samuel Scott (1702-1772) depicted the moment that the Spanish galleon San Jose burst into flames and sank with its treasure off the coast of Colombia.

By Jim Wyss -

Colombia is pushing ahead with plans to salvage one of the hemisphere’s richest and most legendary shipwrecks — even as a U.S. company insists that it deserves a share of the treasure that went down with the San Jose galleon three centuries ago.

In a news conference Wednesday, President Juan Manuel Santos said an unnamed investor will finance the rescue of the Spanish galleon, which was sunk by the British Navy in 1708 off Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Santos said he couldn’t reveal the name of the investor until July 14, but said it’s someone, or an institution, “that will guarantee a process that’s respectful of the historical and cultural value of the galleon,” which the government first acknowledged discovering in December 2015.

Santos said the investor had agreed to a public-private partnership that will bring together a “dream team” of archaeologists and engineers to salvage the wreck and put it on display in the tourist port city of Cartagena.

Those plans put the government at odds with Sea Search Armada, a salvage company based in Bellevue, Wash., that claims it identified the site of the San Jose in the 1980s.

After years of legal battles, SSA won a 2007 ruling in Colombia’s Supreme Court granting it rights to half of the riches not considered “national patrimony.”

The government, however, insists it found the wreck independently of previous research efforts.

How much the wreck might be worth is a matter of fevered speculation, but when the San Jose went down, it was thought to be carrying six years’ worth of accumulated gold, silver and emeralds destined for Spain.

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