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Who Will Keep the Multimillion Treasure Found in the Colombian Sea?

“It is the most valuable treasure that has been found in the history of mankind,” said Juan Manuel Santos. He was the former president of Colombia on November 27, 2015. He announced that the wreck of the San José Galleon had been found Spanish flag. It sunk in 1708 while transporting the riches that had collected from the South American colonies.

Considered “the Holy Grail of shipwrecks” due to its high content of gold and jewels, it is located at a depth of 1000 meters. It is near the island of Barú, Colombia. It is evaluated between US4,000 and US17 .000 million treasures from a commercial point of view because the cultural value is priceless.

In this way, the treasures carried by the Captain ship of the Spanish empire have been found. According to the generalized version, they escaped the plundering of the pirates who sank it. It shines 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. 6 or 10 would be the most important. It’s 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 it as their own. It includes all the content of the ship because it was a state ship. On the other hand, the US company that supposedly placed it also asked for his participation. Of course, the Colombian government did the same. It’s on their continental platform the remains rest.

In 1985, UNESCO declared that all the submerged treasures are World Heritage. Its disposition was unknown by the Colombian Congress. They passed a law by which it declared as its property the loot giving unilaterally finished the fight.

For the Spanish government, the ship 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. It’s through which the properties of Colombia are transferred to Colombia. The Spanish government in their territories.

The law of 1821 the General Congress of Colombia has something to say. “Released by the arms of the republic, any place shall be sequestered and confiscated all properties in its territory corresponding to the Spanish government.” Through its application, all foreign claims were settled.

The UN gives ” preferential rights ” to the nations of origin of the treasures. They’re above the nations under whose flag the ships sailed before sunk.

Who Will Keep the Multimillion Treasure Found in the Colombian Sea
Relationship of the treasures transported by San José on its final journey.

Focus differences

Historical fidelity requires the objects that have been created throughout their development to reflect the characteristic circumstances of each of the historical stages. It includes its people and all its cultural expressions.

For academic media, it is desirable that all historical treasures are preserved intact and adequately protected for the knowledge of future generations. For others, the commercial value is imposed. They try to take advantage financially by selling at market value—objects whose age increases profitability.

The archaeological site would be submerged forever as regulated by its laws and war tomb for Spain. For Colombia, all the objects are found at the bottom of its submarine platform. It will be classified as cultural and marketable under law 1675 of 2013. The Colombian Congress approved it. It’s because they also consider paying the rescue costs with part of the money obtained from the sale of materials that they consider marketable.

Who Will Keep the Multimillion Treasure Found in the Colombian Sea
The valuable remains of the San José shipwreck are near the Island of Barú, Colombia.

A historical clarification

For precision in history, it is clear that the English did not sink the ship. Nothing could be further from their intention than to cause such a disaster. It 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. There are people frustrated with the British Empire’s ambitions on the fortune it carried.

Commodore Charles Wager led the British fleet that sought to storm the ship. Seeing with irretrievably sinking despair, he shouted to his sailors. He was dismayed. He said, ” do something. A man who does not fight for a ship does not fight for anything. ” It’s a phrase that has since become famous, recalls Semana magazine.

It’s unlike the times that followed the discovery of America. The protagonists were Spanish and English as those who looted the aboriginal populations and those who assaulted the looters. A third protagonist emerged on behalf of the descendants of the owners’ originals of the riches: the Colombian government.

Who Will Keep the Multimillion Treasure Found in the Colombian Sea
Illustrative image of gold coins minted in Cartagena de Indias, submerged in the wreck.

Legal irregularities: does legal piracy begin?

Here’s 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 offered to search for the lost ship. They reached an agreement with the General Maritime Directorate. The Colombian authority regulated this activity, which authorized it to explore the submarine platform. A year later, this company said it had found the ship’s remains. They agreed with the government that it would receive 35% of the treasure from recovery.

Glocca Mora later ceded its rights to the company Sea Search Armada (SSA). They left it in charge of all businesses related to recovering the immense fortune at stake.

Here large inconsistencies begin to appear. The treasure hunters obtained corresponded to a 35% of 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. It includes common and current.

It seems to have been deliberately hidden that it was nothing more or less than the Captain San Jose Ship. It contained an immense cultural value for humanity. It had been declared to reduce the percentage of explorers to only 5% of what was recovered.

But that was not all, nor were the geographical coordinates used for anything. When the coordinates reported by SSA were verified, it could be determined that there was no ship in that place. There was nothing. It was, without a doubt.

International law has enshrined the principle “no cure, no pay” principle. It requires whoever claims to have found a shipwreck to denounce the ship’s name. They must indicate the exact coordinates to proceed to the rescue.

The legal subterfuge applied was that the words “zones and surrounding areas” enabled the company to operate the rescue. It’s literally and without exaggeration that anywhere in the extensive Caribbean Sea was added to the useless coordinates indicated.

The company Sea Search Armada demands the Republic of Colombia.

James E. Boasberg is District Judge United States. He signed a legal document in October 2011. It established the SSA’s claim before the District of Columbia against the Republic of Colombia.

According to the demand declaration in the United States, an agreement was signed with the Republic of Colombia. It was to recover the sunken treasure in exchange for part of it. It was located the place on the seabed. The Colombian government not only did not allow him to extract it. They also approved a law according to which he declared the entire treasure as his own.

As part of the facts of the lawsuit, there was a large protest against that law. The SSA sued Colombia in 1989, winning the lawsuit before the Colombian justice. It granted the right to 50%, a ruling that was also unknown by the Colombian government. It’s why SSA again demanded in 2010 the breach of the contract. They claimed its right to 50% of the treasure to be recovered. This time Colombia alleged that it was not obligated by the jurisdiction the claim was filed.

Finally, the US justice declared the shipwreck’s remains as belonging to the Republic of Colombia. It’s how it appears in the document signed by Judge James E. Boasberg.

Who Will Keep the Multimillion Treasure Found in the Colombian Sea
Grand Cayman Island is the largest of the three Cayman Islands. It is considered a tax haven.

In a ruling issued in 2019, a court in Barranquilla ordered the seizure or “sequestration” of the treasure of the Spanish galleon San José. It was 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 had something to say. It became the final stage for jewels and precious metals that may be obtained to recover the treasure.

The media ABC exposed the lack of transparency due to the advantages given by Santos in 2017. They were given to the company Maritime Archaeology Consultants Switzerland AG (MACS). It has concluded a Public-Private Partnership with them 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. It’s because 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 in 2018, the newspaper ABC of Spain concluded something. They concluded that the “spoils of the San Jose galleon” will be shared with the treasure hunters. They said they’d disappear in a maze of companies that end in the Cayman Islands, a tax haven under British rule.

ABC declares the lack of experience and the financial and technical inability of the company MACS. Santos chose them 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. It’s Maritime Archaelogy Consultants Limited (MAC), founded in 2013. In 2016, they transferred most of their shares to a company from the Cayman Islands. It was specifically 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. It’s given its responsibility to the Colombian and world population. They’re responsible for 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, it does not seem that way so far.

Who Will Keep the Multimillion Treasure Found in the Colombian Sea
Mensun Bound is the team archaeologist who will rescue the San José wreck.

The only maritime team archaeologist of the contracted company is Mensun Bound. He was born in the Falkland Islands, which the United Kingdom administers. Argentina claims its sovereignty. Bound directed the Vietnam Hoi An wreck, which failed the investor. The investor was 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. In the prestigious university, he is repudiated. He told ABC about the murky financing of his excavations and that he only did training there as a researcher. In addition, the US government claimed for looting one of its ships shipwrecked in the  Republic of Cape Verde. It’s among other adventures with shipwrecks.

Also, George Horsington is a professional in the maritime industry with a master’s degree in history. He specializes in gas and oil and 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, the depth technician who will drive the remote vehicle. It has generated commercial excavations financed with the cargo of the rescued vessels. It makes us fear that cultural and economic values ​​will not be given priority.

Roger Dooley is the former director of Visa Gold. He worked with Fidel Castroin to design 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 wreck’s distribution. It means giving up to 50% compensation to the company in charge of recovery.

Another member of the team is Cuban Manuel Almeida, a specialized restaurateur. According to the ABC newspaper, he claims to belong to Unesco. They say they do not know him. It is related to the IMDI ​​company that collaborated with the looting of San José in Panama.

The team is completed by Herman Moro, director of MAC. In 1988, he lived as a gardener and landscaper in Washington. He got a diving course in 1991 in Sea Ventures and has read about another shipwreck in Ecuador. He joined the researcher Rob McClung for Rescue it, an achieving 50% compensation agreement with the Ecuadorian government.

Some inconsistencies

It is planned to remove the objects from the marine depth within 180 days. If it is met that they are around 10 million pieces, 55,555 of them should be removed each day. It is a difficult goal to achieve.

Other terms that do not seem coherent are the construction of the laboratory that will receive them. It is available for 360 days, twice the extraction time of the archaeological pieces. In turn, the museum’s construction to show the remaining ones is 720 days.

Something that bothers some is that the rescue company members are paid in kind with part of the treasure, the peso. It is a ton of coins, and gold objects will represent their market value as unprocessed metallic gold. It ignores the commercial value is much greater since they are coins and objects from hundreds of years ago. There’s an undeniable archaeological and cultural value, which is much higher than that of raw materials in the commercial market.

The Colombian Constitution prohibits the sale of “patrimony.” It is the contractors who will sell it since they will not melt their share of precious metals but will sell them as eighteenth-century treasures.

Mensun Bound, team archaeologist who will rescue the San José wreck.
The resolution declares reserved the information on Submerged Cultural Heritage.

To cover all the documentation related to the Submerged Cultural Heritage with the densest possible veil, it was determined this was considered a State secret. It includes the negotiations on the San Jose ship.

The last itinerary of the ship

The Ship Galleon Captain Lord San Jose left Portobelo (later Panama ), to the port of Cartagena de Indias in 1708. It’s 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. He 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 were the relatives of the Viceroy of Peru.

They escorted him to about 20 ships, and his defenses were 66 guns. Its weight was 1,066 tons.

On June 7, at about 15 leagues from Cartagena, something was noticed. 4 English ships appeared threatening. The Expedition with 70 cannons, the Kingston with 60, the Portland with 50, and the Vulcan.

Commodore Charles Wagner was commanding the English squadron. He said, “the sun was setting in front of the captain. An hour and a half later, this happened. It was already very dark, and 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. They 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 and their perceptions of the harmonious and the beautiful will be remembered.

Possibly the funeral honors are offered to the people who lost their lives in the middle of the tragedy. It’s 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, human beings do not seem to have evolved much in values ​​and ethics. Avery’s high percentage of jewels and precious objects will take unknown routes.

The expectation remains about the archaeological objects. It finally came to public knowledge in the years to come and is exhibited in the museum. It will be built in Cartagena de Indias’s very noble and brave city. It’s a special place for so many adventures of corsairs and pirates flagship port of the colonial stage of the Americas.

By Coricia

Marketing manager and co-Chief Editor of Maritime Herald.