Colombian President Gustavo Petro is serious about resurrecting a ship that has been sunken for 300 years before the end of his term. He hopes to be able to claim the incredible treasure of gold, silver and jewelry on board, but other countries are also after it.
Gustavo Petro’s term as Colombian president ends in 2026. If it were up to him, the shipwreck of the San José, which sank 300 years ago, would be resurfaced. To this end, he has ordered the establishment of a public-private partnership or the involvement of a private party. “It is one of the priorities of his government,” Culture Minister Juan David Correa told the news agency Bloomberg. “The president has instructed us to speed up this.”
The 62-gun Spanish galleon was sunk by the British in 1708. According to historian Carla Rahn Philips, what can be found on board is unseen. It would involve six years of collected treasures: silver and gold from Peruvian mines, chests full of Colombian jewelry and millions of silver and gold coins. All together worth 200 tons, and its value has been estimated over the years between 4 and 20 billion dollars.
A legal battle over the shipwreck has been going on for decades. For example, in 1981 there was an American company, Glocca Morra, that claimed to have found the San José. It then claimed to have handed over the coordinates to the Colombian government, with the important condition that it was entitled to half of the treasure on board. But in 2016, then-President Juan Manuel Santos said the Colombian navy and the MAC company had found the wreckage elsewhere. Sea Search Armada, the successor to Glocca Morra, says that it is the same location.
This has been discussed several times in court. For example, Sea Search Armada already demanded 10 billion dollars, which it did not receive. The Colombian government stated that it had examined the coordinates given by Glocca Morra and had found no shipwreck there. Spain also claims that it is entitled to the treasure because it is on a Spanish galleon. The Bolivian tribe Qhara Qhara says it is entitled to the wealth because a lot of the treasure was taken from its people.
The Colombian government has repeatedly indicated that it would like nothing more than to establish an archaeological laboratory with what is found in the wreckage. Scientists call the galleon ‘the Holy Grail of shipwrecks’ because its contents can provide untold insight into the political, social and economic situation in the early 1700s.