Colombia hauls billions worth of loot from 18th-century shipwreck

Colombia's government has announced an expedition to retrieve items of "incalculable value" from the wreckage of the legendary San Jose Galleon ship that sank in 1708, laden with gold, silver and emeralds estimated to be worth billions of dollars.
Culture Minister Juan David Correa told AFP that seven years after the shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Colombia, an underwater robot will be sent to retrieve some of its valuables.
"Between April and May, the robot will retrieve items from the outside of the galleon (a type of ship used from the 16th to the 18th century-ed.) to study the situation and find out what we can do to recover the remaining treasures." , Correa said.
The operation will cost more than $4.5 million, and the robot will operate at a depth of 600 meters to retrieve items such as pottery, pieces of wood and shells "without altering or damaging the remains," Correa explained aboard a large military ship.
"After three centuries spent underwater, most of the objects on board have undergone 'physical and chemical' changes and could disintegrate when taken out of the water," said Capt. Alexandra Chadid, a Navy researcher.
The location of the expedition was kept secret to protect one of the greatest archaeological finds in history from malicious treasure hunters.
The galleon "San Jose" was owned by the Spanish crown when it was sunk by the British fleet near Cartagena in 1708. Of his 600-member crew, only a few people survived.
The ship was returning from the New World to the court of King Philip V of Spain, laden with treasures such as chests of emeralds and around 200 tons of gold coins.
Before Colombia announced the discovery in 2015, it had long been sought after by adventurers.
Who gets the loot?
The discovery of the galleon sparked a war over who would receive the prize from it.
Spain insists that the prize is hers because it was aboard a Spanish ship, while the Bolivian nation of Khara Khara claims it should get the treasure because the Spanish forced the people of the community to mine the precious metals.
The government of leftist President Gustavo Petro, in power since 2022, wants to use the country's own resources to restore the sunken ship and ensure it remains in Colombia.
The idea is "to stop thinking that we are dealing with a treasure for which we have to fight, as if we were in colonial times, with the pirates who dispute these territories," he said.
Spain's ambassador to Colombia, Joaquin de Aristegui, has been instructed to offer Colombia a "bilateral agreement" to protect the sunken ship.
The indigenous Bolivians expressed a willingness to work with Petro's government and asked for only a few parts of the ship to be returned.
"Not only because of the symbolic side of the issue, but more because of the spiritual side," said indigenous leader Samuel Flores. "We just want our ancestors to be at peace," he added.
The expedition to begin recovering the wreckage comes as a case is pending at the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration between Colombia and US-based salvage company Sea Search Armada, which claims to have first discovered the ship more than 40 years.
The company is asking for $10 billion, half the value of the sunken treasure. /BGNES