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29th May 2024

Expedition to ‘Holy Grail of shipwrecks’ begins with £16 billion haul set to be discovered

Ryan Price

The search for the lucrative bounty is underway.

The Colombian government has started an expedition to recover an 18th Century Spanish galleon dubbed the “holy grail of shipwrecks”.

The wreckage, which was sunk by the British Royal Navy in 1708 in the Caribbean Sea, has an estimated £16bn ($20bn) in treasure on board.

Gustavo Petro, the President of Columbia, has said he wants the shipwreck to be recovered before the end of his term in 2026, adding that he wants it to be one of the “priorities” of his administration.

The first stage of the research project – described as a “characterisation phase” – will use remote sensors to generate images of the site to build an inventory of the archaeological material on the seabed.

Underwater robots will also take readings around the shipwreck, which will be used to inform academic studies, the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History said.

Subsequent phases will depend on what comes to light in this first phase of the project, it added.

Juan David Correa, the country’s culture minister, told Bloomberg: “The president has told us to pick up the pace.”

The news comes amid debate as to where the treasure should end up, with ownership claims having also been made by Spain and by Bolivia’s indigenous Qhara Qhara nation, who claim that Spain extracted wealth from their country.

With the value of the treasure being estimated to be between £3.2bn and £16bn, it’s understandable that there is debate as to who should claim ownership.

The galleon is claimed to be first discovered by a salvage company back in 1981, but the Columbian navy first found the shipwreck in 2015 near the port of Cartagena.

Maritime experts believe that the vessel “Holy Grail of shipwrecks” due to the amount of items with historical significance onboard, which include pottery, Chinese porcelain and cannons.

The San Jose sank after the British Royal Navy attacked the boat on 8 June 1708 during the War Of The Spanish Succession.

The Columbian government claims that they will raise the three-mast 64-gun vessel to the water’s surface via a public-private partnership.

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