Hunt for shipwreck with £16,000,000,000 treasure could start in days | Tech News

The San José was sunk while carrying billions’ worth of treasure (Pictures: AFP)

Work to raise a 300-year-old shipwreck carrying billions of pounds worth of treasure could begin as soon as next month.

The San José was sunk off Colombia’s Caribbean coast by the Royal Navy in 1708, and was believed to have been carrying 11 million gold coins among its haul.

The exact location of the shipwreck, which was discovered in 2015, has been kept a secret by the Colombian government to prevent looting – but efforts to try and raise the wreckage from the sea bed are ‘picking up the pace’.

Colombia says it is ‘pushing politics to one side’ and could begin lifting artefacts from the ‘holy grail of shipwrecks’ as soon as April.

Alhena Caicedo, director of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History, told The Guardian: ‘There has been this persistent view of the galleon as a treasure trove. We want to turn the page on that.

‘We aren’t thinking about treasure. We’re thinking about how to access the historical and archeological information at the site.

An estimated 11 million gold coins were on board (Picture: EPA)
Around 200 million tonnes of treasure is believed to have sunk to the bottom of the Caribbean sea (Picture: EPA)

‘This is a huge challenge and it is not a project that has a lot of precedents. In a way, we are pioneers.

‘The contents are really varied and we have no idea how the remains will react when they come into contact with oxygen. We don’t even know if it is possible to raise something out of the water.’

The ship’s loss was a bit of a blunder by the Royal Navy, which intended to capture the ship and its enormous riches before it could return to Europe to fund Spain’s war of succession against Britain. 

However, the ship’s powder magazines were detonated in the ensuing battle, and the entire ship sank – claiming almost all of the 600 souls on board.

Just 11 men survived.

In recent years the wreck has been subjected to ongoing legal battles over who first found it, which had been left undisturbed under the waves for centuries.

But Colombia is playing the old ‘finders keepers’ rule of the ocean, and says it independently found the wreck in 2015.

Historians say the wreck could reveal a lot about the Spanish empire at the height of its power – and it’s hoped eventually the wreck could be brought up to the surface and put on display in a custom built museum.

But the challenge to recover the San José can’t be understated, as no wrecks have ever been recovered from warm, tropical waters before.

A traditional Chinese tea set found in the wreckage (Picture: AFP)
Its guns helped identify the ship (Picture: Reuters)

Colombia’s navy has been studying other marine projects to figure out how it could lift the 130ft wreck – and all of its expensive cargo – without it being destroyed in the process.

It’s developing underwater robots which will hopefully photograph, video and map the wreck before trying to retrieve the San José.

Glocca Morra, a US salvage consortium, claims it found the wreck more than 30 years ago in 1981, and shared the coordinates with the Colombian government on the proviso that it could keep half the treasure when it was brought up from the depths.

Spain has also laid claim to the wreck, given international conventions rule it is a ‘ship of the state’, and also the final resting place for hundreds of Spanish citizens.

Bolivia’s indigenous Qhara Qhara nation also says the treasure should be returned to them – as their ancestors were forced to mine the silver on board.

Images of the ship shared last year reveal an underwater treasure trove. 

Beyond the hull, which is now home to dozens of sea creatures, lie gold coins and ingots – bars of gold – and a full Chinese dinner service.

Its guns, engraved with dolphins, are also visible and helped confirm the identity of the ship.

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