New technology for shipwreck treasure

In an undated handout photo, silver coins recovered from the San Jose at the Investigaciones Marinas del Istmo conservation lab in Panama

By Frances Robles - The Age World

The Spanish galleon San Jose was overloaded with 200 passengers and 700 tons of cargo on a summer night in 1631 when it smashed into a rock off the Pacific coast of Panama, spilling silver coins and bars into the Gulf of Panama.

More than 400,000 coins and at least 1417 bars were lost over a 65 kilometre trail. Four hundred years later, that shipwreck has become one of the latest to land in a legal quagmire over who should have the rights to historic artifacts trapped under the sea.

This one involves the United Nations, the US Department of Homeland Security, the government of Panama and Americans accused of being pirates.

At issue is whether private companies should be able to claim and profit from historic treasures.

Those questions are of particular interest to businesses in South Florida at a time when technology is making it easier to find and recover sunken loot.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that there are more than 1000 shipwrecks in the Florida Keys alone.

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