TREASURE worth an estimated $1 billion (€929 million) has been claimed by Spain in a looming battle over the “holy grail of shipwrecks” which has pitted the ex-colonial power against Colombia and an American salvage company.
As reported on December 5, the San José was discovered 16 miles off the coast of Cartagena on November 27 by a Colombian led team of anthropological experts.
On December 7, Spanish foreign minister Jose Garcia-Margallo said Spain wanted an agreement with Colombia over the former Spanish galleon and its contents, citing a UNESCO convention that wrecks belonged to the state.
The Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos has promised to exhibit the treasure in a Cartagena museum, while an American company, Sea Search Armada, has demanded a 35 per cent shares based on the intelligence provided by its 1980’s hunt for the legendary treasure trove.
The sunken hoard possessed a cargo of gold, emeralds and diamonds which exceeded the Spanish national income when it was downed by British warships in 1708. Since then the search has taken on mythical proportions as an inspiration for both fictional and real-life adventurers and explorers.
An ensuing legal battle is likely to be lengthy and hotly contested, with Spanish culture minister José María Lasalle reminding the Colombians of the 2012 Mercedes case.
Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes was sunk by the British off the coast of the Algarve whilst containing treasure gleaned from Spanish exploitation of the Incas. A US court ruled that the treasure belonged to Spain, as Peru was a mere colony at the time, and the hoard is now on display in Madrid.
Over 1,000 shipwrecks are estimated to lie undiscovered off the Colombian coast in a potential bounty for historians and lawyers alike.