Nearshore Americas

Spat Over Sunken Spanish Galleon in Colombia Continues

A Colombian court has imposed an embargo on the salvaging of the San José, a Spanish galleon that sank in the Caribbean Sea off Cartagena de Indias after an attack by English pirates in 1708, in a ruling that favors the US salvage company that discovered the wreck.

US salvage company Sea Search Armada discovered the shipwreck in 1981 and came to an agreement with the Colombian government in 1994 to evenly share  any treasures recovered.

The ship was bound for Spain with a cargo of gold, silver and emeralds. In 2015, the Colombian government trumpeted the discovery of the shipwreck and claimed all treasure aboard as state property, overturning the previous agreement with Sea Search Armada. The new ruling in a Barranquilla court halts the tender the government launched last August to award a salvage contract to recover the treasure.

Sea Search Armada has said it would relinquish its share of the treasure in return for reimbursement of the US$12 million it spent on finding the ship, and a similar amount spent on the legal battle since to claim its half of the treasure, which is valued at billions of US dollars. Meanwhile, the Spanish government also claims the ship’s treasures as state property.

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Adam Critchley

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