Over the weekend, the president of Colombia triumphantly announced the discovery of the shipwreck San Jose, which was sunk by the British in 1708 and is thought to be very, very valuable. But—hang on—Spain’s at the door waving around some very dusty paperwork.
Just last week, we talked about how much easier technology has made finding valuable shipwrecks—and the legal headaches that brings. It’s not as simple as buying a boat and taking off for the Caribbean. This new find showcases another dimension to the complexities of international salvage law: Spain, which lost so many of these ships, still exists, Spain is pretty sure at least some of these ships technically still belong to Spain, and Spain (hello! Spain here!) wants its cut.
The BBC reports that hard on the heels of the announcement, Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Garcia-Margallo came out and said it has rights, dammit, and they want to hash this out with Colombia without any trouble, see?
Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Garcia-Margallo said Spain wanted an amicable agreement with Colombia over the ship and its contents.
But he said Spain would be prepared to defend its interests at the UN if necessary.
The minister said that there was a UNESCO convention that stipulated that this type of wreck “belonged to the state, was the result of war, and was not a private boat”.
“This can be resolved in a friendly way,” Mr Garcia-Margallo said.
“They will understand our demands and that we are defending our interests just as we understand their demands and that they are defending their interests,” he added.
Vice News points out that all this is on top of the fact that an American salvage company insists they found the wreck in 1981, but Colombia refuses to recognize their claim. And other experts aren’t even sure Colombia really found jack shit. “I’m not saying they didn’t find this thing, but I want a little more proof than just a picture of bronze cannons and Spanish ceramics,”said historian Robert Marx. Plus it’s gonna cost a fortune to recover this alleged fortune, and another fortune in legal fees to keep it. “The only people that are gonna get rich off this are the goddamn lawyers,” he added.
Of course, never forget that gold wasn’t mined in Spain but rather looted from South America, so good luck sorting this one out!
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Photo via AP Images. Not actually treasure from the San Jose.