Colombian president announces billion dollar San José shipwreck find

May take years to recover, litigate fabled treasure (if the ship has truly been found)
By , Coin World
Published : 12/11/15
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An announcement of a newly found shipwreck off Colombian coastal waters — if true — could have a tremendous effect on the world of numismatics, shipwreck exploration and archaeology. 

On Dec. 4, Juan Manuel Santos president of the nation of Colombia, announced a press conference for the following day in Cartagena. On Dec. 5, President Santos announced that Colombian archaeologists had located the wreck of the long-sought San José, a ship that the British sank in 1708 amid the heat of the War of Spanish Succession. (And this wreck should not be confused with the 1631 wreck, of the same name, off of Florida.)

This “is one of the biggest findings and identification of underwater heritage, if not the greatest, some say, in the history of mankind,” President Santos said, in a translation of the press announcement.

The title of the announcement translates to “The Spanish galleon San José returns from the abyss of oblivion.”

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Billion dollar treasure?

The ship was loaded with treasures of silver, gold and possibly emeralds that would be worth at least $1 billion today, Santos said. 

Some in the numismatic community are awaiting further verification that the wreck is truly the San José.

According to Daniel Frank Sedwick, president of the coin firm of the same name, “It’s all speculation at this point and will probably take years before we really know anything. We don’t even really know for sure it is the San José, which really would be among the most important Spanish wrecks of all time, filled with gold and silver cobs and ingots from Peru and Colombia.”

Sedwick’s firm specializes in shipwreck coins, and his auction catalogs include a list of famed wrecks in which coins were recovered. Notably missing are any wrecks from Colombia. 

If this recent discovery is the San José wreck, it carried at least 5 million to 7 million pesos in gold and silver coins, according to Sedwick’s book The Practical Book of Cobs

Modern rumors suggest that 116 chests of emeralds are also on board the ship.

The ship went down in 800 feet of water off the island of Baru near Cartagena.

The San José was carrying an inordinate amount of treasure because the war had interfered with shipments of riches between the New World and the old. 

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