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Colombia’s Attempts To Recover $17 Billion San Jose Treasure Blocked

The treasure of the San Jose, a 300 year old Spanish treasure ship located off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia and laden with gold, silver and gems, will remain on the ocean floor for a while longer as local courts challenged the nature of the contract to raise the potential $17 billion fortune.

Brought by a group of “concerned citizens” who believe the government should retain all salvage from the impending operation, the lawsuit is the latest in a series of legal challenges to Colombia’s project to salvage the wreck.

Under current terms, the Colombian government will share the spoils of the venture with a private company who will be responsible for salvaging the wreck and building a museum in Cartagena, in return gaining 50% of all treasure that does not include objects of national importance.

“History will not forgive us if new and sophisticated conquistadors, known by the (United Nations) as treasure hunters … once again loot the galleon like it was prey” – Quote from the lawsuit

Announcing the suspension of the project during a televised event, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón reaffirmed the government’s position:

“There are so many interests involved, we’ve had to face enormous legal battles in national and international courts, in this administration and previous ones… All of this is invaluable and will be handed over to the new government in its entirety, I ask the Colombian people to take care of this, like you must take care of the peace [with the FARC rebel group] — take care of the treasure of the San Jose galleon.” – President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón

The Explosion of the San José during Wager’s Action. Oil on canvas by Samuel Scott.

Designed by Francisco Antonio Garrote and built by Pedro de Aróstegui, the San Jose was launched in 1698 as part of the infamous Spanish treasure fleet. Sailing as the flagship of a fleet out of Panama that included three warships and fourteen merchant vessels, the treasure fleet was attacked in a British action near Barú while on its way to Cartagena. During the battle, known as Wager’s Action, the San Jose’s powder magazines detonated, sinking the vessel with the loss of all six hundred hands but for eleven survivors. The entirety of the treasure on the ship was sank with the vessel.

The setback is the latest in a number of challenges to the government’s attempt to salvage the San Jose, including the claim from Sea Search Armada in Bellevue, Washington, who claimed to have found the wreck as far back at 1981.

The salvage of the San Jose was intended to be a defining legacy of the current governmental administration in Colombia, instead responsibility for awarding the final contract and actual raising of the treasure will now fall to incoming President Iván Duque Márquez who will be sworn in on August 7.


Michael East View All

Michael East is a writer with a wide variety of eclectic tastes including politics, history, archaeology, professional wrestling and British science-fiction. A former Students' Union President and newspaper editor, he has studied at a variety of institutions and graduated in both history and politics.

He is interested in truth, justice and the unAmerican way. Named as TIME Person of the Year in 2006 and 2011, he is known variously as a rake, a libertine and as the King in the North... if to nobody else but himself.

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