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Colombia to begin exploration of the San José Galleon – the ‘Holy Grail of Shipwrecks’

San Jose Galleon news
Explosion of the San Jose during Commodore Wagner’s action. Painting by Samuel Scott (1772).

Colombia authorities have embarked on an exploration project of the San José, an 18th-century Spanish galleon, often referred to as the ‘holy grail of shipwrecks,’ sunk in 1708 during a skirmish with the British Royal Navy near Cartagena in the Caribbean Sea.

In recognition of the site’s ‘immense historical and financial value’, the Colombian government has designated the surrounding area as a protected archaeological zone.

The ship, mired in ownership disputes between Colombia, Spain, and a U.S. salvage company, is believed to contain up to £16bn ($20bn) in treasure intended for the Spanish crown to fund military efforts against the British.

The initial phase of the project involves using advanced underwater robotics and remote sensing technology to map and catalogue the site, setting the stage for further academic research without disturbing the seabed. The careful approach ensures the preservation of the site’s high scientific and heritage value, with Colombia’s culture minister heralding the exploration as ‘unprecedented.’

The San José was a key vessel in the Spanish Armada. The 64-gun, three-masted galleon served in the Guardia de la Carrera de las Indias. Launched in 1698, the ship met its demise in 1708 during a battle near Barú Island, close to Cartagena, Colombia. At the time of its sinking, the San José was transporting a vast treasure comprising gold, silver, and emeralds.

The wreck was discovered at a depth of 600 metres by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in November 2015.

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