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A 300-year-old treasure-laden shipwreck was just discovered off the Colombian coast

Action off Cartagena, featuring the San Jose, by Samuel Scott.
National Maritime Museum/ Wikimedia
Action off Cartagena, featuring the San Jose, by Samuel Scott.
  • Olivia Goldhill
By Olivia Goldhill

Science reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

A Spanish sailing ship, containing treasure reportedly at least $1 billion, has been found off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia, announced the country’s president on Twitter on Friday (Dec. 4).

“Great news: We found the galleon San Jose,” wrote Juan Manual Santos.

The ship, a Spanish galleon, was part of King Philip V’s fleet but sank in 1708 while carrying silver, emeralds, and around 11 million gold coins.

The galleon was intended to carry colonial riches back to Spain during the war of the Spanish Succession but was sunk by an explosion while trying to outrun British warships with 600 crew members believed to be on board.

Santos said the finding “constitutes one of the greatest—if not the biggest, as some say—discoveries of submerged patrimony in the history of mankind,” according to the BBC.

Though the ship was only just discovered, it has long been the subject of a legal battle. US-based salvage company, Sea Search Armada, partnered with the Colombian government in the search for the wreckage and announced it had located the area where the galleon sank in 1981. There was an initial agreement to split any findings, but in 1984 then-president Belisario Betancur reduced Sea Search’s share to a 5% “finder’s fee.” The legal wrangling lasted for decades, but in 2011 a US court ruled that the galleon was the property of the Colombian state.

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