The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), a private/non-profit marine exploration organization established in Cape Cod, Mass., received authorization by Maritime Archaeology Consultants (MAC), and Colombian officials to released new information from the successful discovery of a 62-cannon, treasure-loaded Spanish galleon known as the “holy grail of shipwrecks.”
San José’s cannons, engraved with the dolphins that confirm the ship’s identity. (Source: WHOI)
The San José sank in the early 18th century with dozens of sailors and treasure chests - stacked with precious metals and emeralds mined in Peru during a battle with British ships in the War of Spanish Succession, said WHOI. In today’s dollars, the treasure could be worth more than $17 billion dollars.
The legendary wreck was discovered off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia, in late 2015, by a team of seasoned international scientists and engineers during a voyage aboard the Colombian Navy research ship ARC Malpelo led by MAC’s Chief Project Archaeologist Roger Dooley.
The wreckage was discovered about 600 meters below the surface with an underwater drone called REMUS 6000, owned by the Dalio Foundation, and operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI).
“The REMUS 6000 was the ideal tool for the job, since it’s capable of conducting long-duration missions over wide areas,” said WHOI engineer and expedition leader Mike Purcell.
Finding high-profile wrecks is nothing new for the underwater drone, which played a critical role in finding the wreckage of Air France 447 in 2011 and helped map the Titanic wreck site in 2010.
To confirm San Joséa’s identity more than 600 meters underwater, 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,” said WHOI. Bronze cannons with engraved dolphins confirmed it was in fact “the holy grail of shipwrecks.”
“The wreck was partially sediment-covered, but with the camera images from the lower altitude missions, we were able to see new details in the wreckage and the resolution was good enough to make out the decorative carving on the cannons,” said Purcell. “MAC’s lead marine archaeologist, Roger Dooley, interpreted the images and confirmed that the San José had finally been found.”
Bronze cannons discovered the Remus 6000 at the bottom Caribbean Sea. (Source: WHOI)
Teacups from the San José found on the ocean floor. (Source: WHOI)
“Once again, WHOI’s expertise in drone technology and operations has resulted in an important discovery,” said WHOI Vice President for Marine Facilities and Operations Rob Munier.
“We are pleased to have played a part in settling one of the great shipwreck mysteries for the benefit of the Colombian people and maritime history buffs worldwide. We look forward to our continued involvement to answer the basic oceanographic research questions associated with the find,” Munier added.
While the shipwreck still remains a mystery to many, the exact claim to the billions of dollars of precious metals and gems was not immediately apparent.
Excited to be part of modern-day treasure hunting and other explorations made possible by new technologies that are opening worlds were closed to us. Ocean exploration is thrilling. See for yourself at @AMNH for Unseen Oceans or the giant screen film, Oceans: Our Blue Planet. https://t.co/9G3eptSQoG— Ray Dalio (@RayDalio) May 24, 2018
Colombia and Spain have declared ownership of the treasure. WHOI explains they are explorers, not treasure hunters, and will not be caught up in what is expected to be lengthy international court battle of who receives ownership.