300-Year-Old Shipwreck May Hold The Most Valuable Treasure Ever Lost At Sea

REMUS descended to just 30 feet above the wreck where it was able to capture photos of a key distinguishing feature of the San José - its cannons. REMUS image, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

The seafloor of the Caribbean Sea looks like a pirate's idea of heaven. Just off the coast of Colombia lies a shipwreck loaded with one of the most valuable hauls of treasure ever lost at sea, estimated to be worth up to $17 billion in today’s money. 

The wreck of the San José, often called the “holy grail of shipwrecks”, was first discovered off the coast of Colombia three years ago. However, many details of this intriguing find have only just been released by the authorities.

The Spanish galleon was sunk by a British squadron during the War of the Spanish Succession on June 8, 1708. Loaded with 62 guns and up to 600 crew, this colossal ship sank along with its vast treasure trove of gold, silver, and emeralds. The ship was transporting the riches as part of the Spanish king's mission to loot the South American colonies to fund the costly 13-year-long war. By no surprise, this booty meant that governments, treasure hunters, and researchers had been searching for the wreck for decades, until it was eventually discovered 600 meters (1,968 feet) beneath the waves by the Colombian Navy near Cartagena in 2015.

Ceramics and pottery from the San José. REMUS image, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Over the past few years, the wreckage has since been explored by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) using sonar imaging and an autonomous underwater vehicle called REMUS 6000, which has captured numerous new photographs of the site. REMUS was also used to map and photograph the Titanic wreck site during a 2010 expedition and played a key role in the discovery of the wreck of the Air France 447 passenger plane in 2011.

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