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“Holy grail” of shipwrecks found off Colombia

May 24, 2018 7:00PM AP

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Ceramic jars and other items from the 300-year-old shipwreck of the Spanish galleon San Jose. Picture: AP media_cameraCeramic jars and other items from the 300-year-old shipwreck of the Spanish galleon San Jose. Picture: AP


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A shipwreck carrying $22 billion worth of treasure has been found at the bottom of the sea.

The Spanish galleon*, called the San Jose, was sunk by the British Navy more than 300 years ago carrying gold, silver and emeralds*.

The ship’s treasure is so valuable it has been called the “holy grail of shipwrecks”. For hundreds of years it was considered one of history’s greatest maritime* mysteries.

The three-masted galleon was found 600m below the surface of the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Colombia, in Central America. The water is so deep it could only be found with the help of a robot.

An artist's impression of the 1588 Spanish Armada, an etching by Dutch artist Jan Luyken in 1679. media_cameraAn etching by Dutch artist Jan Luyken in 1679 of the Spanish fleet.

But treasure hunters hoping to rush to the shipwreck will be disappointed. Its location is still secret.

In fact, it was found three years ago and all the people who found it were sworn to secrecy.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) from Massachusetts in the US operated the robot, REMUS 6000, that found the San Jose. WHOI’s staff had to keep their find secret.

“We’ve been holding this under wraps* out of respect for the Colombian government,” WHOI’s Rob Munier said.

In November 2015 REMUS 6000 took images that found the San Jose.

The robot photographed the dolphin engravings on the cannons, important proof that this was the San Jose.

“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,” WHOI engineer and expedition* leader Mike Purcell said.

Jack Harbeston managing director of salvage company Sea Search Armada showing the location on map of Spanish galleon San Jose 24 May 2007.  ship shipwreck media_cameraThe exact location of the shipwreck is still a secret, though we know it is in the Caribbean Sea.

Several countries and companies have fought for years over who owns the treasure.

The San Jose was sunk off the coast of the Colombian port city of Cartagena in 1708 during fighting with the British Navy.

It was part of a fleet* carrying jewels, precious metals and 11 million gold and silver coins from Spain’s South American colonies*.

The cargo was to help Spain’s King Philip V fund his war against Britain. Britain wanted the treasure and planned to seize* the ship. But it was a rich time for pirates, with raiders* sinking more than 1000 Spanish ships off the coast of Colombia during 300 years of Spain’s rule.

Before the British ships in the area could steal the ship it blew up just 25km into its journey.

British Commodore Charles Wager was commanding four ships nearby and wrote that the explosion was so intense* he could feel the heat from his own ship.

He wrote: “I believe the ship’s side blew out … She immediately sank with all her riches.”

Parts of this story originally appeared in The Sun and are republished with permission.

Oldest message in a bottle found in WA


galleon: a type of old sailing ship

emeralds: green precious jewels

holy grail: a thing strongly wished for

maritime: of the sea

under wraps: kept secret

partially: partly

sediment: settled sand and dirt

altitude: height or depth

resolution: quality of a picture

expedition: trip

fleet: group of ships

colonies: countries controlled by another country

seize: take

raiders: pirates or thieves

intense: strong, great, big



1. How much is the San Jose treasure thought to be worth?

2. How many masts did the ship have?

3. What is the name of the sea it was found in?

4. What was the cargo going to pay for before it sank?

5. How many Spanish ships did pirates sink in 300 years?


Commodore’s Log 8th June 1708 …

Imagine you are British Commodore Charles Wager, who was commanding four ships nearby when the San Jose sank. Write a logbook entry describing what happened. Use lots of descriptive language so that the readers feel like they were there too.

Some questions to guide you:

  • What were your ships doing there?
  • What were they hoping to achieve?
  • What actually happened?
  • What could you see, hear, feel?
  • Were you happy with this result?
  • If possible you may like to complete some extra research to get more information about this battle.
  • Extension: Whose treasure is this?

The Spanish galleon San Jose sank over 300 years ago. Its treasure has been found but who is the rightful owner? Does it belong to the Spanish, Colombian or British governments or WHOI, the company that found it? Or do you believe the rightful owner is someone else, perhaps a museum?

Write a short paragraph explaining who you believe the treasure belongs to and what should be done with it, if it is able to be retrieved from its watery grave.


The glossary of terms helps you to understand and learn the ambitious vocabulary being used in the article. Can you use the words outlined in the glossary to create new sentences? Challenge yourself to include other VCOP (vocabulary, connectives, openers and punctuation) elements in your sentence/s. Have another look through the article, can you find any other Wow Words not outlined in the glossary?

Please do not use one-word answers. Explain what you enjoyed or found interesting about the article. Use lots of adjectives.

Extra Reading in history