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Colombia’s Dispute Over $20 Billion Treasure of Sunken San Jose Galleon


San Jose ship treasure, holy grail of shipwreck in colombia
San Jose ship treasure, the holy grail of shipwreck in Colombia. Credit: Colombia Presidency

Colombia has entered a crucial phase in an international legal dispute over the $20 billion treasure of the sunken San Jose galleon. The arbitration tribunal began on December 14, addressing the contentious case between the nation and the American company Sea Search Armada. This case centers on the San Jose galleon, a historic shipwreck, and involves intricate legal arguments over discovery rights and the protection of cultural heritage.

Galleon San Jose treasure discovery causes disputes

In the 1980s, Sea Search Armada, through its predecessor Gloca Morra Company, conducted exploratory research in the Caribbean Sea. They claim to have discovered the San Jose galleon, a shipwreck laden with treasures. The company is now seeking compensation from Colombia, alleging that the government took control of the treasures they found. Colombia, however, asserts full rights over the galleon, stating that it is part of the nation’s cultural heritage.

Before the tribunal, Colombia presented evidence dating back to 1982, emphasizing that Gloca Morra Company was never granted economic rights over the galleon. The government also highlighted a 1994 contract with Columbus Exploration to search for the galleon in a vast area, which yielded no findings of the shipwreck. A 2007 Supreme Court ruling did grant Sea Search Armada 50% rights over found treasures, but it did not specifically include the San Jose galleon. Colombia’s stance is that historical and archaeological monuments, like the San Jose galleon, cannot be claimed as treasures for economic gain.

Cultural significance and debate about the sunken galleon treasure

In 2020, the Colombian government declared the San Jose galleon a ‘Cultural Interest Good’, reinforcing its position that the shipwreck and its contents are inalienable national heritages. Sea Search Armada’s legal team countered with various documents and judicial decisions to support their claim. The hearing, set to continue on December 15, is being closely watched for its implications on international maritime law and cultural preservation.

This court case between Colombia and Sea Search Armada over the San Jose galleon is not just a legal battle but also a matter of national pride and heritage for Colombia. The decision of the tribunal will have lasting a impact on how historical treasures are protected and claimed globally.

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