US Firm Plans Expedition to Disputed Shipwreck

Even though Colombia says the San Jose galleon is all theirs
By Luke Roney,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 6, 2016 9:13 AM CDT
US Firm Plans Expedition to Disputed Shipwreck
Jack Harbeston, the managing director of the salvage firm Sea Search Armada, shows the location of the Spanish galleon San Jose.   (Photo/Andrei Pungovschi)

An American company isn't backing down on its claim that it's entitled to half the haul from the San Jose galleon, a treasure-laden Spanish ship sunk by the British in 1708 off the coast of Colombia. Sea Search Armada, which is based in Washington state, plans to head to the site of the wreck late this year and start pulling up some of its gold, silver, and jewels, the Miami Herald reports, despite claims by the Colombian president that the entire treasure (estimated to be worth somewhere between $1.5 billion and $17 billion, per Mashable) belongs to his country. "If the [Colombian] navy is ordered to intercept us ... there is not much we can do against that many guns and that big of guns," SSA's Jack Harbeston says. The story stretches back to the early 1980s—that's when SSA claims it discovered the "immediate vicinity" of the San Jose and made a deal with Colombia for a percentage of the treasure.

Decades of "legal wrangling" ensued, per the Herald, leading to a 2007 Colombian Supreme Court ruling reaffirming SSA's claim. But then, the BBC reports, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted last December that the San Jose had been found. Santos said the wreck was discovered by scientists, the navy, and a researcher who "looks like Hemingway" at a site that had never been surveyed before. "Overnight," the Herald notes, "SSA was cut out of the picture." Spain had also laid claim to the treasure. But after discussions with Colombia, it proposed last month that the wreck and its treasure remain on the seafloor to avoid conflict, according to Colombia Reports. An SSA lawyer tells the Herald the whole thing can be cleared up easily: "Let's go to the site together, and if it's a different location then we'll give up our claim." (This shipwreck was discovered in a desert diamond field.)

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