Colombia to explore legendary shipwreck
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Colombia to explore legendary shipwreck

Colombia has designated the spot where the legendary San José galleon sank off its Caribbean coast more than three centuries ago a ‘protected archaeological area’. The 18th-century galleon was carrying gold, silver and emeralds believed to be worth billions of dollars. According to Colombia’s ministry of culture, the designation guarantees the protection of heritage through the ship's “long-term preservation and the development of research, conservation and valuation activities.”

Dubbed the ‘holy grail’ of shipwrecks, the San José was owned by the Spanish crown when it was sunk by the British navy near the Colombian harbour city of 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.

Sensors and robots

The first stage of the research project – described as a characterization 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 stated. Subsequent phases will depend on what comes to light in this first phase of the project.

The decision to designate the site an archaeological area was taken to better protect it from treasure seekers. After all, in addition to the centuries-old cannons and teacups, the wreck also contains gold bars, hundreds of coins, emeralds and other jewels with an estimated value of over 14 billion euros.

"Wager's Action off Cartagena, 28 May 1708" by Samuel Scott (1702-1772), an English painter who specialized in marine scenes, depicts Commodore (later Admiral) Charles Wager's attack on a Spanish treasure fleet off Cartagena, Colombia. Wager's ship, the 'Expedition,' is shown in the center, attacking the Spanish flagship 'San José,' which appears to explode in a cloud of smoke and flames reflected on the water.
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