The search for the San José galleon ended in 2015, but a treasure trove estimated to be worth up to US$17 billion is still sitting at the bottom of the sea, approximately 15 kilometers north of the Barú peninsula near Cartagena.
Getting the gold, silver and vases filled with precious stones hit rock bottom last year when President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the government was suspending the salvage operation of the “Holy Grail” of shipwrecks and one of his last policy decisions before ending a second term.
The original decision to suspend the Public-Private Partnership (APP), established between the government and private contractors, was based on a petition by “concerned citizens” regarding the future home of the cultural and archaeological patrimony. Under the terms of the APP, Colombia would share in equal parts the cost of the operation, as well as revenue from the sale of some of San José’s loot.
But ever since the galleon was discovered by oceanographers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHO) 800 meters deep, the San José has been the focus of legal disputes between Colombia, Spain and the United States.
Sunk during a fierce naval battle in 1708, the San José was the pride and joy of the Spanish fleet and one of the largest ships constructed to transport riches from the New World. For Spain, the shipwreck is also a mass burial site as some 600 sailors died during the attack.
This week, the Colombian government through the Ministry of Culture (entity in charge of protecting the galleon’s cultural heritage) extended again provisional suspension of the APP selection process, this time for four months, signifying that for most of 2019, the San José galleon will remain untouched as it has for the last 300 years.