Spain forbids 'commercialisation' of legendary sunken treasure worth billions

San Jose Galleon treasure

The ownership of the treasure has proved controversial

George Bunn

By George Bunn

Published: 29/02/2024

- 16:07

Updated: 29/02/2024

- 16:19

The 'holy grail' vessel is laden with gold, silver and emeralds estimated to be worth billions of dollars

Spain has forbidden the "commercialisation" of the treasure of a galleon that has been referred to as a "holy grail" for maritime archaeologists.

The San Jose galleon, which sank in 1708, is expected to contain gold, silver and emeralds estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

The promise to raise the shipwreck by the Colombian government comes amid an ongoing dispute over who owns the treasure, which is said to be worth between £3.2bn and £16bn.

There has been controversy surrounding the galleon as claims to its fortune have been made by Colombia, Spain and by Bolivia's indigenous Qhara Qhara nation.


The scientific ship ARC “Caribe” in charge of exploring the treasure of the Spanish galleon San Jose


The vessel is currently wrecked in an undisclosed location off the coast of Colombia, with President Gustavo Petro saying he wants the recovery of the shipwreck to be one of the "priorities" of his administration before his term ends in 2026.

A spokesperson from Spain's Ministry of Culture told GB News: "Spain's position has always been to maintain diplomatic lines of communication with Colombia, as well as to carry out an archaeological campaign together with this country and other international actors.

"Colombia and Spain are currently maintaining excellent relations and we understand that they must bring their interests closer together in this matter.

"Spain, as a signatory to UNESCO's 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, considers that under no circumstances should the commercialisation of the goods that make up the wreck be allowed, which is also an underwater tomb of naval officers that must be respected."


A ROV on land

The launch and recovery system (LARS) robot of the underwater remotely operated vehicle (ROV) tasked with exploring the treasure of the Spanish galleon San Jose


Only a handful of its 600-strong crew survived when the galleon was sunk by the British navy near Cartagena in 1708.

According to the Colombian government, the three-mast 64-gun vessel, which had 600 crew members, will be raised to the surface through a public-private partnership.

The location of the sunken ship remained a mystery until 1981, when it was claimed to have been discovered by US company Glocca Morra.

They later gave its coordinates to Colombia with the promise it would receive half the fortune when recovered.

However, Colombia’s President in 2015 Juan Manuel Santos said the country's navy actually found the ship at a different location on the sea floor.

In June 2022, Colombia said that a remotely operated vehicle reached 900 meters below the surface of the ocean, showing new images of the wreckage.

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