The Politics and Pleasures of Treasure

The Politics and Pleasures of Treasure

The Colombian government has announced the discovery of what may be the holy grail of treasure ships – the largest and most valuable wreck of a Spanish galleon ever found, with gold, coins and precious stones  estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

Colombia’s discovery of the 300-year-old, shipwrecked galleon San Jose was sunk by the British in 1708 near the Colombian port city of Cartagena as the vessel was trying to outrun a fleet of British warships off the island of Baru where on June 8, 1708 an explosion sent it to the bottom of the Caribbean Sea.

The ship is thought to be loaded with gold, platinum and precious gems but just as valuable are the images brought up by autonomous underwater vehicles showing dolphin-stamped bronze cannons confirming the ship’s identity. Weapons, ceramics and porcelain vases have also been noted at the wreck site and could shed light on an important period in Spanish colonial history but also potentially spawn legal battles over the valuable cargo. Colombia has been involved in a three-decade legal battle with the Seattle-based Sea Search Armada, or SSA, a commercial salvage company that claims it first discovered the wreck’s location in 1981.

The San Jose, described as the holy grail of shipwrecks, is lying in about 700 feet of water and the Colombian government says it will build a museum to house the treasure.



main image: Action off Cartagena, 28 May 1708. Oil by Samuel Scott