The discovery of one of the most consequential shipwrecks in history was revealed to the public this week.
An Ill-Fated Treasure Ship
A Spanish galleon called San José famously sank off the coast of South America in 1708. It was part of a fleet sailing from (the present-day) Panama to Colombia, and carried an enormous amount of colonial spoils on board: primarily emeralds, gold, and silver.
The San José encountered a group of British warships in the course of its journey. At the time, the two nations were mired in the War of Spanish Succession. Though it was outfitted with its own guns (64 of them) and cannons, the Spanish vessel had set sail without its normal escort of other ships for protection.
In the absence of this convoy, the British handily won the battle. After an explosion, the treasure-laden ship sank, taking the lives of over 500 crew members along with it.
Due to its wealth of gems and precious metals lost in the wreck, the San José has often been dubbed the "holy grail" of shipwrecks.
This is not to be confused with the Spanish ship by the same name that wrecked near the Florida Keys just 25 years later in 1733.
Discovery Sparks Media Frenzy
The Colombian Navy actually located remains of the ship off the country's Atlantic coast in 2015, but could not make details public until this week due to its cultural value as a state secret.
In fact, the find was the culmination of decades of wrangling between undersea explorers and the Colombian government. Its resting place was first surmised by a recovery company in 1981, but the two sides battled in court over how to divide the proceeds for years. That now seems to have been resolved.
An interesting detail is that the high-tech undersea vessel used to verify the ship's identity is owned by Ray Dalio, the famous hedge fund manager. It was positively identified as the San José by engravings of dolphins on its bronze cannons.
The story was reported this week in Live Science as well as various outlets all over the news media. Reportedly, the value of the sunken treasure is estimated somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 billion to $17 billion. There is speculation that its cargo includes millions of Spanish gold coins alone.
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