San José galleon located off coast of Colombia

Earlier this month, Colombia’s president announced that a research team had located the shipwreck of the 300-year-old galleon, the San José. He announced that they thought it was worth $4 – $17 million due to the gold and jewels that are thought to be left in the wreckage.

The goods are said to have been collected in the mines in Peru and were being taken back to Spain in the early 1700s. Unfortunately, the galleon was stopped in its tracks when it got into a battle with the British Navy off the coast of Colombia.

The president announced that the wreckage had been found at the end of November, while many other parties have also laid claim to the wreckage, including a US firm that claims it already found it years before, and a team working for Spain’s government.

It is because of the potential treasure that the galleon contains that it garners so much interest, but some academics say the wreck should be a protecting area since it is a war grave for more than 600 crew men.

It is believed that the wreckage could also provide answers about Spain’s succession during the early 1700s when Europe was at war. Scientists are also interested in what the wreck will tell them about life aboard the galleon and the men who lived and died there.

The only piece of identification the Colombian government has issued is the fact that the cannons known to have been fitted onto the San José have been found at the site.

With other similar wrecks, archaeologists have used carbon dating methods from the ship’s wood to date and identify the wreckage. However, what will happen next to the San José is not known. Colombia’s government wishes to conduct a full investigation while the other claimants want to be part of the study.

The global authority, UNESCO, says that war shipwrecks belong to the country that they were originally from, so German U-boats that were sunk off the coast of the US belong to Germany.

Spain has vocalised its rights to the San José, but Colombia has never signed up to UNESCO’s convention and so it remains how the ownership of the wreckage will be agreed.

Researchers say that it is important to remember that the wreckage is a war grave, where over 600 men lost their lives and still lie to this day, regardless of the treasure that lies around them.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE