The United Nations cultural agency on Friday called on Colombia not to commercially exploit the 300-year-old wreck of the Spanish galleon San Jose, which is believed to contain a cargo worth billions of dollars. A UNESCO experts' body protecting underwater cultural heritage on Friday sent a letter to Colombian Culture Minister Mariana Garces Cordoba expressing concern that recovering the treasure for sale rather than for its historical value "would cause the irretrievable loss of significant heritage." Colombian authorities intend to recover the San Jose, ending a three-century saga since June 8, 1708, when the ship with 600 people aboard sank while trying to outrun a fleet of British warships, reports the AP.
It is believed to have been carrying 11 million gold and silver coins, emeralds, and other precious cargo from Spanish-controlled colonies, which could be worth billions of dollars if ever recovered. The wreck was discovered three years ago with the help of an international team of experts and autonomous underwater vehicles, and its exact location is a state secret. The UNESCO body's head, Auron Tare, said they had learned that "the recovery of artifacts from the Spanish Galleon San Jose will be held contrary to the UNESCO convention, not in a scientific ethical way and for commercial profit of a third party." Colombia has not signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which would subject it to international standards and require it to inform UNESCO of its plans for the wreck.