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Colombia Accelerates Plan to Recover Billions in Sunken Treasure

Colombia is accelerating its effort to recover as much as $20 billion in gold, silver and gems from a three-century-old shipwreck, even as US treasure hunters sue for half the value.

President Gustavo Petro told officials to set up a public-private partnership, or do a deal with a private firm, to get the San Jose galleon off the Caribbean Sea floor as soon as possible, according to the minister of culture.

“This is one of the priorities for the Petro administration,” Minister of Culture Juan David Correa said Wednesday, in a phone interview. “The president has told us to pick up the pace.”

Petro wants to recover the wreck before his term ends in 2026, though its unclear whether that will be possible, Correa said.

When the 62-gun Spanish galleon was sunk in battle by the British in 1708, it was gorged with six years worth of accumulated treasure: silver and gold from mines in Peru, chests full of Colombian emeralds and millions of pesos in gold and silver coins, according to “The Treasure of the San José” by historian Carla Rahn Phillips.

No one knows for sure how much the treasure might be worth, but in decades of court cases, its value has been estimated at anywhere from $4 billion to $20 billion.

Legal Dispute

In 1981, a US company called Glocca Morra said it found the San Jose and handed over the coordinates with the agreement that it was entitled to half the treasure.

In 2015, then President Juan Manuel Santos said the Colombian Navy, working with a company called MAC, had found the shipwreck at a different location.

Those coordinates are a state secret, but Glocca Morra’s successor, Sea Search Armada, believes the 2015 expedition found part of the same debris field.

The company has taken its case to arbitration in London under the US-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement where it’s asking for $10 billion — equivalent to half the fortune, according to its calculations.

Correa said the country would abide by the ruling, but said the case has no merit.

The government has visited the coordinates provided by the company “and we have concluded that there is no shipwreck there,” he said.

Ultimately, the government would like to create an archaeological lab where the San Jose’s haul can be cleaned, studied and inventoried before going on display in a national museum, Correa said.

Source: BNN Bloomberg