The San Jose galleon belonged to the Spanish crown, sank
The San Jose galleon belonged to the Spanish crown, sank more than three centuries ago, and was discovered in 2015. wikipedia

The colossal San Jose galleon, believed to have held 200 tons of gold coins, sank off the coast of Colombia more than three centuries ago. Its location has been kept secret since its discovery in 2015 by the Colombian government, as it is considered one of the most promising economic and archaeological treasures of the nation. Now, an underwater robot will be sent there in an attempt to retrieve part of its bounty, believed to be worth billions.

Gustavo Petro's government announced that Colombia will invest more than $4 million (17,962 million Colombian pesos) in the recovery process of what has been dubbed as the "holy grail" of shipwrecks. The plan is expected to get underway next month.

The plan will involve strengthening technical capabilities by outfitting a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), setting up a materials conservation laboratory and carrying out scientific and general outreach activities to multiple interested audiences, the press release said.

The fate of the 316-year-old wreck has taken centerstage in the public conversation, as it is regarded as both an archaeological and economic treasure. The government clarified that the galleon "is an invaluable Cultural Heritage of Colombians that must be managed under the designation of a Protected Archaeological Area at the national level."

The robot is expected to start extracting items from "the surface of the galleon" between April and May and observe how they appear upon removal from the water. That will help determine the next steps in recovering the rest of the treasures, Culture Minister Juan David Correa told French news agency AFP.

The robot will be operated from the multipurpose vessel ARC "Caribe" and is capable of working at depths of up to 600 meters to extract items such as ceramics, pieces of wood and shells without compromising the integrity of the wreck.

The next step will be to assess the possibility of sending the ROV inside the ship to attempt to obtain the first samples of much more valuable items.

The San Jose galleon, under ownership of the Spanish crown, was sunk by the British navy near Cartagena in 1708. It was on its way to deliver treasures such as chests of emeralds and around 200 tons of gold coins to King Philip V of Spain, as documented by accounts from the era.

Images of some of those treasures were recorded in June 2022, when Colombia's remotely operated vehicle revealed that the ship held gold ingots and coins, cannons crafted in Seville in 1655 and an intact Chinese dinner service.

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