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“It is the most valuable treasure that has been found in the history of mankind,” said Juan Manuel Santos , the former president of Colombia, on November 27, 2015, announcing that the wreck of the San José Galleon had been found , Spanish flag, sunk in 1708 while transporting the riches that had collected from the South American colonies.
Considered as “the Holy Grail of shipwrecks” due to its high content of gold, silver, emeralds and jewels, it is located at a depth of 1000 meters, near the island of Barú, Colombia , and is evaluated between US4,000 and US17 .000 million treasures, from a commercial point of view because the cultural value is incalculable.
In this way, the treasures carried by the Captain ship of the Spanish empire, which escaped the plundering of the pirates who sank it, according to the generalized version, shine again before the eyes of the world as a unique appearance of great historical and cultural value.
According to the experts, there are a thousand boat wrecks on the Caribbean coasts of Colombia, among which 6 or 10 would be the most important, being one of the most sought after: the San José galleon.
Who does it belong to?
From the moment of the announcement of Santos, the voices of the Spanish government rose to claim as their own all the content of the ship because it was a state ship, while, on the other hand, the US company that supposedly placed it also he asked for his participation and, of course, the Colombian government did the same, on whose continental platform the remains rest.
On the other hand UNESCO had declared, in 1985, that all the submerged treasures are World Heritage, but its disposition was unknown by the Colombian Congress that passed a law by which it declared as its property the loot, giving unilaterally finished the fight.
Although it is said that for the Spanish government the galleon and all its contents belong to it because it is a state ship, the Colombian legislation was based on a law that alludes to the War of Independence and through which the properties of Colombia are transferred to Colombia. Spanish government in their territories.
The law of October 16, 1821 of the General Congress of Colombia says: “Released by the arms of the republic, any province, city or place shall be sequestered and confiscated all properties that are in its territory corresponding to the Spanish government,” and Through its application, all foreign claims were settled.
On the other hand, the UN gives ” preferential rights ” to the nations of origin of the treasures, above the nations under whose flag the ships sailed before being sunk.
Historical fidelity requires the objects that have been created throughout its development to reflect the characteristic circumstances of each of the historical stages, its people, its customs, all its cultural expressions.
Thus, for academic media it is desirable that all historical treasures are preserved intact and adequately protected for the knowledge of future generations, while for others the commercial value is imposed and try to take advantage financially by selling at market value. objects whose age increases profitability.
For Spain , the archaeological site would be submerged forever as regulated by its laws, as well as being a war tomb. For Colombia, all the objects found in the bottom of its submarine platform will be classified as cultural and marketable, in accordance with the law 1675 of 2013 approved by the Colombian Congress, because they also consider paying the costs of the rescue with part of the money obtained from the sell materials that they consider marketable.
A historical clarification
For the sake of precision in history, it is clear that the galleon was not sunk by the English, nothing could be further from their intention than to cause such a disaster, which would make them lose the loot they were after; an explosion in the gunpowder depot ended the lives of almost all 600 occupants (there are stories of some survivors), and frustrated the ambitions that the British Empire had on the fortune it carried.
The Commodore Charles Wager led the British fleet that sought to storm the ship, and seeing with despair that is irretrievably sinking, shouted to his sailors dismayed: ” do something; a man who does not fight for a galleon does not fight for anything in life “, a phrase that has since become famous, recalls Semana magazine .
Unlike the times that followed the discovery of America , in which the protagonists were Spanish and English as those who looted the aboriginal populations and those who assaulted the looters, now a third protagonist emerged on behalf of the descendants of the owners originals of the riches: the Colombian government.
Legal irregularities: does legal piracy begin?
As in another chapter of the long saga of piracy that has persecuted the treasures transported in the maritime ships, certain legal irregularities appeared at the beginning of the search for the wreck of unknown location in the decade of the 80s.
In 1980, the US company Glocca Mora Co. offered to search for the lost ship, reaching an agreement with the General Maritime Directorate, the Colombian authority that regulated this activity, which authorized it to explore the submarine platform. A year later this company said it had found the remains of the ship agreeing with the government that it would receive 35% of the treasure to recover.
Glocca Mora Co. later ceded its rights to the company Sea Search Armada (SSA), leaving it in charge of all businesses related to the recovery of the immense fortune at stake.
Here large inconsistencies begin to appear, given that what the treasure hunters obtained corresponded as a percentage, 35%, to what was recognized by the maritime authority as “treasures and shipwrecked species”; in other words, the percentage that is granted to the recovery of the contents of a boat without historical or archaeological value, common and current.
It seems to have been deliberately hidden that it was nothing more or less than the Captain San Jose Ship, with immense cultural value for humanity, that had been declared clearly reduce the percentage for explorers to only 5% of what was recovered.
But that was not all, nor were the geographical coordinates used for anything because when the coordinates reported by SSA were verified, it could be determined, without a doubt, that there was no galleon in that place, and there was nothing.
The principle “no cure no pay” (“no find no reward”), has been enshrined in international law and requires whoever claims to have found a shipwreck to denounce the name of the ship and indicate the exact coordinates to proceed to the rescue.
The legal subterfuge applied was that the words “zones and surrounding areas” that enabled the company to operate the rescue, literally and without exaggeration, anywhere in the extensive Caribbean Sea were added to the useless coordinates indicated.
The company Sea Search Armada demands the Republic of Colombia
James E. Boasberg, District Judge United States , signed a legal document in October 2011 , which established the claim that SSA described before the District of Columbia against the Republic of Colombia.
According to the declaration of the demand in the United States, of this company, in 1984 an agreement was signed with the Republic of Colombia to recover the sunken treasure in exchange for part of it, and once it located the place on the seabed , the Colombian government not only did not allow him to extract it, but approved a law according to which he declared the entire treasure as his own.
In addition, as part of the facts of the lawsuit, in protest of that law, SSA sued Colombia in 1989, winning the lawsuit before the Colombian justice which granted the right to 50%, a ruling that was also unknown by the Colombian government , reason why SSA again demanded in 2010 the breach of the contract, claiming its right to 50% of the treasure to be recovered. This time Colombia alleged that it was not obligated by the jurisdiction within which the claim was filed.
Finally, the US justice declared the remains of the shipwreck as belonging to the Republic of Colombia, as it appears in the document signed by Judge James E. Boasberg.
Finally, in a ruling issued on Monday, April 1, 2019, a court in Barranquilla, Colombia, ordered the seizure or “sequestration” of the treasure of the Spanish galleon San José , when responding to an appeal from the SSA company that claims the rights over 50% of the load.
Will the wealth that could not assault 300 years ago end in British rule?
As in another battle of filibusters, but now quietly carried out by those in charge of the issue in the Colombian government, President Juan Manuel Santos and Culture Minister Mariana Garcés, the final stage is developed for jewels and precious metals that may be obtained in the recovery of the treasure.
The media abc.es exposes the lack of transparency due to the advantages given by Santos, in 2017, to the company Maritime Archaelogy Consultants Switzerland AG (MACS), with which it has concluded a Public-Private Partnership worth approximately 75 million dollars. , to advance the recovery of the “wreck” as it is said to the remains of a shipwreck.
After more than 300 years, the business will be run by the British owners of MACS, since it is said that a good part of the investors come from Great Britain . The good offices of President Santos have made it so. The York Archeological Trust will be in charge of the business.
The financial and legal fragility of the company hired for the rescue
In research published on April 24, 2018, the newspaper ABC of Spain concludes that the “spoils of the San Jose galleon” will be shared with the treasure hunters and disappear in a maze of companies that end in the Cayman Islands, a tax haven under British rule .
Moreover, ABC declares the lack of experience and the financial and technical inability of the company MACS, which was chosen by Santos to advance the commercial excavation of one of the most important deposits in history.
According to their data, Maritime Archaelogy Consultants Switzerland comes from another English company with the same name, Maritime Archaelogy Consultants LImited (MAC), founded in 2013, which in 2016 transferred most of its shares to a company from the Cayman Islands, the Trans -Siberian Limited, which is the one that now controls it.
These elaborate and twisted financial maneuvers cause concern about the transparency that should be expected given the responsibility it implies not only for the Colombian, South American and world population, the rescue of a true cultural treasure that faithfully reflects the expressions and values of hundreds of years ago .
Its technical fragility
Although Santos announced a “dream team” for the recovery of the wreck, so far it does not seem that way.
The only maritime team archaeologist of the contracted company is Mensun Bound, born in the Falkland Islands (administered by the United Kingdom, whose sovereignty is claimed by Argentina ), in 1953. Bound directed the Vietnam Hoi An wreck , which ended in failure for the investor, the Chinese-Malay businessman Ong Soo Hin : the government obtained less than 10% of the repeated pieces and did not generate any scientific publication.
In his CV, Mensun says he is an archaeologist from Oxford, but in the prestigious university he is repudiated, as he said by ABC , for 18 years, because of the murky financing of his excavations, and that he only did a training there as a researcher. In addition, the US government claimed for looting one of its ships shipwrecked in the Republic of Cape Verde, Africa , among other adventures with shipwrecks.
Also, George Horsington, a professional in the maritime industry with a master’s degree in history, specializing in gas and oil , participates as project director . It is linked to the Swire Group of Hong Kong, whose ships explored San Jose in 2015 and 2016.
There is also Fredrick Soreide , Norwegian, who is the depth technician who will drive the remote vehicle. It has generated commercial excavations financed with the cargo of the rescued vessels, which makes us fear that cultural and economic values will not be given priority.
Roger Dooley, former director of Visa Gold, who worked with Fidel Castroin the design of a company to hunt treasures, continues in the ranks . He is credited with having convinced Santos and the Minister of Culture to correct the law on the distribution of the wreck and to give up to 50% as compensation to the company in charge of recovery.
Another member of the team is Cuban Manuel Almeida, a specialized restaurateur who claims to belong to Unesco , where they do not know him , according to the ABC newspaper. It is related to the IMDI company that collaborated with the looting of San José, (another), in Panama.
The team is completed by Herman Moro , director of MAC, who in 1988 lived as a gardener and landscaper in Washington and who with a diving course in 1991 in Sea Ventures and with much reading about another shipwreck in Ecuador joined the researcher Rob McClung for Rescue it, achieving 50% in agreement with the Ecuadorian government.
It is planned to remove the objects from the marine depth within 180 days , and if it is met that they are around 10 million pieces, 55,555 of them should be removed each day, which is a difficult goal to achieve.
Other terms that do not seem coherent are the construction of the laboratory that will receive them, for which 360 days are available, twice the time of extraction of the archaeological pieces. In turn, the construction of the museum to show the remaining ones is 720 days.
Something that bothers some is that the members of the rescue company are paid in kind with part of the treasure, the peso, that is, a ton of coins and gold objects will represent their market value as unprocessed metallic gold, ignoring that its commercial value is much greater since they are coins and objects from hundreds of years ago, with an undeniable archaeological and cultural value, which in the commercial market is much higher than that of raw materials.
The Colombian Constitution prohibits the sale of “patrimony”, and that is precisely what the contractors will end up selling, since they will not melt their share of precious metals, but will sell them as eighteenth-century treasures.
To cover with the densest possible veil all the documentation related to the Submerged Cultural Heritage, which includes the negotiations on the San Jose galleon, it was determined that this was considered a State secret.
The last itinerary of the galleon
The Ship Galleon Captain Lord San Jose left Portobelo (later Panama ), to the port of Cartagena de Indias, on May 28, 1708, from where he would make a stopover in Havana to set sail for Spain .
There, King Felipe V looked forward to the wealth that would inject resources to attend the War of Succession that further deteriorated his declining empire.
Outside the treasures for the Spanish Royal House, were the “mands” free remittances sent in trunks stamped by the settlers. In addition to the crew, more than 300 people were traveling, among them the relatives of the Viceroy of Peru.
They escorted him about 20 ships, and his defenses were 66 guns. Its weight was 1,066 tons.
On June 7, at about 15 leagues from Cartagena, 4 English ships appeared threatening: the Expedition with 70 cannons, the Kingston with 60, the Portland with 50 and the Vulcan.
Commodore Charles Wagner, commanding the English squadron, relates: “just as the sun was setting in front of the captain and an hour and approximately one half later, already very dark, the captain exploded”.
A window to American art 300 years ago
The colonial art of some of the American provinces will be reflected in the objects that are recovered from the wreck of one of the most powerful ships of the XVIII century. Based on them, the cultural environment that gave rise to them will be recreated, the values that possibly motivated their architects, their perceptions of the harmonious and the beautiful.
Possibly the funeral honors are offered to the people who lost their lives in the middle of the tragedy and the truncated journey they started hundreds of years ago is concluded.
Curiously, it is as if the clock of history had stopped for three centuries and started walking again. However, apparently, the human being does not seem to have evolved much in terms of values and ethics, so a very high percentage of jewels and precious objects will take unknown routes.
The expectation remains about the archaeological objects that finally come to public knowledge in the years to come and are exhibited in the museum, to be built, in the very noble and brave city of Cartagena de Indias, that for so many adventures of corsairs and pirates flagship port of the colonial stage of the Americas.
Source: Bles Mundo