The Colombian army has released a video showing gold coins and other valuable items around the shipwreck of the San Jose galleon, believed to be the resting place of billions of dollars in treasure.
Royal Navy vessels sank the Spanish flagship in 1708 during the War of the Spanish Succession, but its resting place – near the port of Cartagena on Colombia’s coast with the Caribbean – had been a mystery for more than three centuries before the Colombian navy formally announced its discovery in 2015.
Experts speculate that the ship was loaded with at least 200 tons of treasure, including millions of high-purity gold doubloon coins, as well as many silver coins and emeralds that the Spanish empire had plundered from South America, worth up to $17bn (£13.5bn) today.
The video reveals an enormous bounty aboard the vessel even beyond the gold coins and ingots, including ancient cannons as well as intact Chinese porcelain, pottery and cannons.
Colombian government and military archaeologists are studying the inscriptions on this material to determine where it originated from.
President Ivan Duque praised his country’s navy for capturing “images with a level of precision that’s never been seen before” and has asserted that the wreck and its contents would remain in Colombia rather than be sold as part of the salvage operation.
The salvage rights have been subject to decades of litigation and are contested by a professional salvage company that claims to have first uncovered the wreck in 1981, as well as Colombia, Spain and the Qhara Qhara nation of indigenous Bolivians who claim the Spanish extracted the wealth from its people.
The images shared by the Colombian army were captured with a remotely operated submersible vehicle that dived to a depth of almost a kilometre. Its specific location is considered a state secret.
US-based salvage company Sea Search Armada – owned by investors including the late John Ehrlichman, the White House adviser under President Nixon convicted for his role in the Watergate scandal – claimed to have first found the wreckage in the early 1980s.
It isn’t clear whether the location the company identified is the same as that uncovered by the Colombian navy.
Several legal battles over how much the company would be due if it carried out the salvage operations have now been completed, leaving Sea Search Armada with no further legal recourse.
The Colombian navy’s submersible vehicle also found two nearby shipwrecks, one of a colonial boat and another of a schooner which is thought to date back to Colombia’s war for independence from Spain in 1819.
“We now have two other discoveries in the same area, that show other options for archaeological exploration. So the work is just beginning,” said navy commander Admiral Gabriel Perez, according to Reuters.
“The idea is to recover it and to have sustainable financing mechanisms for future extractions,” added President Duque. “In this way we protect the treasure, the patrimony of the San Jose galleon.”