Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos talks to the media during a press conference in Cartagena, Colombia, Saturday, Dec.5, 2015. (AP Photo/ Pedro Mendoza)
Colombia finds what may be the world's largest sunken treasure
December 10, 2015
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President Juan Manual Santos of Colombia has hailed the discovery of a Spanish galleon. The ship went down off the South American nation's coast. It happened more than 300 years ago. It may contain the world's largest sunken treasure.
He was speaking in the colonial port city of Cartagena. Santos said the exact location of the galleon San Jose and how it was discovered with the help of an international team of experts was a state secret. He would not reveal its location. The ship sank somewhere in the wide area off Colombia's Baru peninsula. That is south of Cartagena.
No humans have yet to reach the wreckage site. Underwater vehicles went there. They brought back photos of dolphin-stamped bronze cannons. The cannons are in a well-preserved state. They leave no doubt to the ship's identity. That is what the government said.
The discovery is the latest chapter in a saga that began three centuries ago. But the story actually began on June 8, 1708. That is when the galleon ship sank. About 600 people were on board. The ship was trying to outrun a fleet of British warships. The San Jose is believed to have been carrying 11 million gold coins and jewels. They came from then, Spanish-controlled colonies. The treasure could be worth billions of dollars if ever recovered.
The ship is considered by maritime experts to be the holy grail of Spanish colonial shipwrecks. It has been the subject of a legal battle in the U.S., Colombia and Spain. The issue has been about who owns the rights to the treasure.
Sea Search Armada is a salvage company owned by U.S. investors. In 1982 it announced it had found the San Jose's resting place. It was 700 feet below the water's surface.
Colombia's government overturned well-established maritime law two years later. The law gives 50 percent to whoever locates a shipwreck. The government slashed Sea Search's take. Sea Search could have a 5 percent "finder's fee."
A lawsuit by the American investors in a federal court in Washington was dismissed in 2011. The ruling was affirmed on appeal two years later. Colombia's Supreme Court has ordered the ship to be recovered before the international dispute over the fortune can be settled.
Santos didn't mention any salvage company's claim. But the Colombian government said the ship had been found Nov. 27. It was discovered in a never-before referenced location. New meteorological and underwater mapping studies were used.
Danilo Devis has represented Sea Search in Colombia for decades. He expressed optimism that the sunken treasure would finally be recovered. The ship could have been carrying treasure that today is worth about $10 billion.
But Devis bristled at the suggestion that experts located the underwater grave anywhere different from the area adjacent to the coordinates Sea Search gave authorities. That was three decades ago.
"The government may have been the one to find it. But this really just reconfirms what we told them in 1982," he told The Associated Press. He spoke from his home in Barranquilla, Colombia.
The president of Colombia said any recovery effort would take years.
Santos showed an underwater video during his presentation. It appears to show jewels and the cannons. In the footage, English-speaking crew members are seen aboard a Colombian naval ship. They can be seen launching the underwater vehicle into the ocean.
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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why has the location of the galleon been kept secret?
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