The Colombian government announced in early December that they had found the San Jose, an early 18th century Spanish galleon that could be the most valuable shipwreck ever discovered. The San Jose contains treasure and gold elements worth up to $17 billion.
With a great discovery comes great drama, lies and treachery. A U.S based salvage company, Sea Search Armanda (SSA), immediately claimed that they found the ship and registered its location in 1982. Colombia is offering to allow the company to verify the San Jose is in the exact location they claim it was in 33 years ago. SSA officials believe the offer to be a scheme, meant to provide Colombian officials an excuse to dismiss their longstanding claim to share the wealth of San Jose. Colombia’s minister released a statement inviting the salvage company, accompanied by Colombian officials to go to the 1982 coordinates to see if the San Jose is in fact there. In the Prime Ministers letter she states the San Jose is not where the SSA said it was in 1982, but to protect its site, no one is disclosing its coordinates. If the galleon is found at the exact coordinates registered in 1982, the Colombian government will recognize the SSA’s claim to a portion of the treasure.
Here is the catch – the 1980s latitude and longitude was less precise than today’s global positioning system’s. SSA managing director, Jack Harbeson, believes that Colombian officials couldn’t have determined that the San Jose was not at the 1982 coordinates without violating an order from their own courts not to visit the wreck site until the ownership dispute was resolved.
The international squabble over the riches of the San Jose is only one attempt by society to claim earth’s riches. Coins such as Spanish 8-reales coins- better known as “pieces of eight” – have been brought up from shipwrecks and sold by salvagers. Some think that the days of treasure hunting are over, and that the shipwrecks should be left undisturbed as cultural heritage sites.