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Colombia declares ‘protected archeological area’ around treasure-laden shipwreck

A screen grab of a video released by the Colombian Presidency of the wrecked Spanish galleon San Jose
A screen grab of a video released by the Colombian Presidency of the wrecked Spanish galleon San Jose - Copyright Colombian Presidency/AFP -
A screen grab of a video released by the Colombian Presidency of the wrecked Spanish galleon San Jose - Copyright Colombian Presidency/AFP -

Colombia on Wednesday declared a “protected archeological area” around the spot where a Spanish galleon sank off its Caribbean coast more than three centuries ago laden with gold, silver and emeralds.

The designation, said the culture ministry, “guarantees the protection of heritage” through the ship’s “long-term preservation and the development of research, conservation and valuation activities.”

The San Jose was owned by the Spanish crown when it was sunk by the British navy near Cartagena in 1708. Only a handful of its 600-strong crew survived.

The galleon had been heading back from the New World to the court of King Philip V of Spain, bearing chests of emeralds and some 200 tons of gold coins. 

Before Colombia announced the discovery in 2015, the ship had long been sought by adventurers.

The value of its bounty has been estimated to run into the billions of dollars.

Culture Minister Juan David Correa insisted Wednesday: “This is not a treasure, we do not treat it as such.”

He announced the area’s new designation at an event launching the first “non-intrusive” phase of a scientific exploration of the wreck.

Spain had laid claim to the ship and its contents under a UN convention Colombia is not party to, while Indigenous Qhara Qhara Bolivians claim the riches were stolen from them.

But the government of President Gustavo Petro has insisted on raising the wreck for purposes of science and culture. 

Spanish and Qhara Qhara delegations were present at Wednesday’s event.

The wreck is also claimed by US-based salvage company Sea Search Armada — which insists it found it first more than 40 years ago and has taken Colombia to the UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration, seeking $10 billion dollars.

AFP
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