Science & Tech

$20 billion treasure hunt begins at the ‘holy grail of shipwrecks’

$20 billion treasure hunt begins at the ‘holy grail of shipwrecks’
SHIPWRECK HOLY GRAIL: Two Ships Found Near Spanish Galleon Full Of Gold …
Real Press / VideoElephant

An expedition to what has been dubbed the “Holy Grail of shipwrecks” is finally underway in what promises to be one of the most significant deep-sea excavations of modern history.

The San José galleon was carrying one of the largest hauls of valuables ever lost at sea when it was ambushed by the British navy in 1708.

It was en route to the port city of Cartagena, Colombia, at the time, transporting chests of coins, jewels and other treasure to the Spanish king to help pay for his war with Britain, the BBCreports.

Plunging to the depths of the Caribbean Sea, it took with it the lives of around 600 people on board and its glittering haul, which is now estimated to be worth as much as $20 billion (£16 billion).

There it lay, untouched for more than 300 years until, in 2015, its whereabouts were finally discovered.

The treasure-laden galleon was sunk in a British navy ambush, taking along with it the lives of 600 people(AFP)

These have, however, remained a Colombian state secret, with the ship the subject of a fierce international legal battle.

The South American country as well as parties in the US and Spain all lay claim to the rights of the sunken treasure, which remains 600 metres (almost 2,000 feet) underwater.

Now, Colombia’s government has declared a protected archaeological area around the wreck and has announced that it will invest around $4.5 million (£3.5 million) this year in an archaeological exploration of the 62-gun, three-masted galleon.

The first phase of the scientific research into the deep waters around the ship will collect information to determine which pieces are suitable and possible to extract.

Oceanographer Hermann León Rincón told reporters the expedition involves submerging robotic equipment that is connected to a navy ship. From there, the robot will be positioned using a satellite.

Chinese cups pictured at the wreckage site(Reuters)

Archaeologist Carlos Reina Martínez, who is leader of the submerged cultural heritage of the Colombian Institute of Archeology and History (ICANH), said that the operation aims to discover what life was like for the 600 people on board the boat when it sank.

The team seeks to better understand what conditions were like on board and to learn more about the cargo, artillery and merchandise of the colonial era in the Americas.

“It is time to claim the heritage elements for which the remains of the galleon should be valued,” Juan David Correa, Colombia’s minister of culture, told a media briefing, insisting that the value of the wreck is patrimonial and not monetary.

“History is the treasure,” he stressed.

The galleon's coins, jewels and other valuables have an estimated worth of around $20 billion(AFP)

In February, the country’s government confirmed that it formally began arbitration litigation with Sea Search Armada, a group of American investors, for the economic rights of the San José.

The firm claims $10 billion (around £7.8 billion) corresponding to what they assume is worth 50 per cent of the galleon treasure that they claim to have discovered in 1982.

The ship is believed to hold 11 million gold and silver coins, emeralds and other precious cargo from Spanish-controlled colonies.

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