Colombian president Gustavo Petro is actively looking to find a 300-year-old sunken ship that is rumored to hold treasure worth up to $20b USD.

Located off the coast of Cartagena, the San Jose was a Spanish galleon that was returning from Panama — where crew members seized a trove of gold, silver, and jewelry — when it was ambushed by the British Navy in 1708 as part of the ongoing War of Spanish Succession. Naturally, the whereabouts of the ship became the stuff of legend. According to reports, the Colombian government claimed to have found its location back in 2015, but kept it under wraps to quell swarms of treasure seekers from going on a deep sea mission, which could have ended in yet another disaster. Petro has deployed search units to recover the San Jose and aims to have it completed before his term ends in 2026.

No sunken ship story would be complete, however, without a number of groups going after the same booty. U.S. company Sea Search Armada states to have actually found San Jose’s whereabouts in 1981 and tried to work with the Colombian government to retrieve the ship by splitting the treasure 50-50, but to no avail.

Historians and archaeologists are at odds with the search. On one end, both the Spanish and Colombian governments have laid claim to the San Jose and the contents it withholds; on the opposite side, historians and researchers, such as Bogotá-based nautical archaeologist Ricardo Borrero, believes that any search would provide “more risk than reward.”

Located nearly 2,300 feet below sea level, the ship has entered a state of “equilibrium with the environment,” he added. “Materials have been under these conditions for 300 years and there is no better way for them to be resting.” Borrero joins a list of researchers who believe the valued treasure is “overly exaggerated”, making note of the San Jose’s sister ship, the San Joaquín, which sailed nearby before the former was sunk and had “significantly less” treasure on board.

In related news, a major Helmut Newton exhibition has landed in Spain.
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