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Plan to recover “holy grail” of shipwrecks holding billions of dollars in treasure is approved over 3 centuries after ship sank

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More than three centuries after the legendary San Jose galleon sank off the coast of Colombia while laden with gold, silver and emeralds, the nation has officially approved a plan to recover the wreck and its treasures, officials announced this week.

Dubbed the “holy grail” of shipwrecks, the 316-year-old wreck has been controversial since it was discovered in 2015, because it is both an archaeological and economic treasure —  estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

“For the first time in history, a model of comprehensive public management of the archaeological site and asset of cultural interest, protected by regulations and public missionality, is advanced,” the Colombian government said in a news release Tuesday.

Colombian will invest more than $1 million in the recovery process, which is expected to get underway next month, officials said.

Last month,  Culture Minister Juan David Correa told Agence France-Presse that an underwater robot would be sent to recover some of its bounty.

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The Spanish San Jose Galleon sunk in the Caribbean in 1708 after a battle with the British. New data suggests such shipwrecks could reveal the history of hurricanes in the region.

Samuel Scott


Between April and May, the robot would extract some items from “the surface of the galleon” to see “how they materialize when they come out (of the water) and to understand what we can do” to recover the rest of the treasures, said Correa.

The robot will work at a depth of 600 meters to remove items such as ceramics, pieces of wood and shells “without modifying or damaging the wreck,” Correa told AFP aboard a large naval ship.

The location of the expedition is being kept secret to protect what is considered one of the greatest archaeological finds in history from malicious treasure hunters.

The San Jose galleon was owned by the Spanish crown when it was sunk by the British navy near Cartagena in 1708. Only a handful of its 600-strong crew survived.

The ship had been heading back from the New World to the court of King Philip V of Spain, laden with treasures such as chests of emeralds and some 200 tons of gold coins.

Before Colombia announced the discovery in 2015, it was long sought after by treasure hunters.

The expedition to start recovering the shipwreck’s trove comes as a case is underway at the UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration between Colombia and the U.S.-based salvage company Sea Search Armada — which claims it found the wreck first over 40 years ago.

In June 2022, Colombia said that a remotely operated vehicle reached 900 meters below the surface of the ocean, showing new images of the wreckage.

The video showed the best-yet view of the treasure that was aboard the San Jose — including gold ingots and coins, cannons made in Seville in 1655 and an intact Chinese dinner service.


Gold coins found in centuries-old shipwrecks off Colombia

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At the time, Reuters reported the remotely operated vehicle also discovered two other shipwrecks in the area, including a schooner thought to be from about two centuries ago.

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