Colombia delves into the depths for San José’s secrets

Colombia’s government unveiled plans for a deep-sea expedition aimed at exploring the legendary galleon San José, which sank in the 18th century off the northern Caribbean coast, purportedly laden with billions of dollars’ worth of cargo. This initiative involves a comprehensive scientific endeavor to investigate the submerged wreckage, nestled some 600 meters beneath the ocean’s surface.

Initially located in 2015, the precise whereabouts of the galleon have been shrouded in secrecy due to ongoing legal and diplomatic entanglements. To kickstart the exploration, Colombia is allocating approximately $4.5 million towards archaeological research of the 62-gun vessel, sunk in 1708 after an encounter with an English fleet en route to Cartagena.

Explosion of San José during Wager’s Action. Oil on canvas by English painter Samuel Scott.

The Colombian government, led by Alhena Caicedo Fernández of the Colombian Institute of Archeology and History (ICANH), intends to conduct this investigation independently of private enterprises. The expedition’s launch, slated for spring, hinges on favorable weather conditions.

Operated by a state-of-the-art robotic system acquired in 2021, the expedition will employ cutting-edge technology to delve into the depths, capturing imagery and meticulously documenting findings. The mission’s objective, as articulated by Carlos Reina Martínez, is to unravel the daily existence of the vessel’s 600 occupants and study the colonial-era artifacts and merchandise it carried.

Colombia’s Minister of Culture, Juan David Correa, emphasized the cultural significance of the galleon, framing its exploration as a quest to reclaim heritage rather than a pursuit of monetary gain. However, the expedition is embroiled in a complex legal dispute involving American investors laying claim to a portion of the treasure. Despite the contentious nature of ownership claims, the allure of the San José’s fabled riches persists, driving Colombia’s determined quest to unearth its historical legacy.