Sorry to burst one's childhood dreams - pirates didn't bury treasure and leave behind treasure maps (they went into port and spent it just like everyone else). But Spanish galleons really did transport vast amounts of gold and treasure from the New World and sometimes these treasure ships went to the bottom (sometimes with the help of British guns).

Today searching for these treasure ships is big business. But if one would prefer to search for buried treasure, then it's rumored that Captain Kidd's famous treasure can be found on a Connecticut island.


The Story of The Ill-Fated Treasure Ship San Jose

One of the most famous recent treasure ship discoveries is with the San Jose - a Spanish galleon sent to the bottom by the British 300 years ago. This Spanish ship was laden with gold, silver, and precious gems collected from Spain's South American colonies.

The treasure was being shipped to Spain to help finance the war of the Spanish succession. Colombia said it discovered the wreck (somewhere off the coast of Cartagena) in 2015.

The Galleon San Jose:

  • Galleon: Was A 64 Gun, Three Masted Galleon of The Spanish Navy
  • Date: Launched In 1698, Sank In 1708
  • Loss: Of Over 600 People On Board, Only 11 Survived
  • Cargo: Gold, Silver, Emeralds

Soon after leaving port in South America, it ran into a squadron of British warships. In the ensuing battle, San Jose blew up and the other galleons were also captured or sunk. The engagement became known as "Wager's Action."

Battle Of Wager's Action:

  • British Forces: 5 Ships of The Line, 1 Fireship
  • British Losses: 14 Killed or Wounded
  • Spanish Forces: 3 Galleons, 14 Merchant Ships
  • Spanish Loses: 1,247 Killed or Wounded, 1 Galleon Captured, 1 Galleon Destroyed, 1 Galleon Scuttled

There are plenty of sunken naval and merchant treasure ships hiding away in the world's oceans. But the only real treasure pirate ship that was sunk, was sunk off the coast of Massachusetts.

Related: There Are Numerous Pirate Tours In The USA, Here's What To Expect On One

Discovery And Planned Salvage

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 According to the BBC, the Colombian president stated that the salvage operation "begins a new chapter in the cultural and scientific history, not only of Colombia but of the entire world". There has been speculation that the San Jose could be the most valuable shipwreck ever and be worth billions.

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The San Jose is just one of the thousands of shipwrecks - some of which went down with their precious cargo. These ships are the targets for archaeologists and treasure hunters.

  • Value: There are Reports that The Treasure of San Jose Could Be Worth Up To $17 Billion (The Colombian Government Estimated between $1 and $10 Billion)

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While there are some international agreements for parts of the treasure hunting process. Just who gets to keep the treasure in these ships is complex and there are many competing interests. Decisions are often made under international law.

  • Salvage: 3 Years Later Salvage Has Not Begun Due to Legal Battles
  • Law of Salvage: Murky and Complicated

On the one hand, the ship's original owner has a viable right to ownership, but that can be forfeit by a country that owns the national waters where the ship is discovered. This is demonstrated by that the BBC article linked above (dated June 2018) had no mention of any counterclaims.

Related: Where To Go Shipwreck Diving In Lake Erie, The Shallowest Great Lake

American And Spanish Counterclaims

A more recent article on Art and Objects highlights how the legal battle has quickly gotten murky. Not only has Spain (it was a Spanish ship leaving from what was then a Spanish colony) laid claim, but so has the United States.

They state that:

"Although archaeologists and historians were excited by the news, the question of ownership quickly emerged, with Spain and the United States both attempting to usurp Colombia’s claim."

The United States is laying claim because an American company was given permission to search for the wreck as Colombia had limited technological and financial resources to scour the seas by itself. The company claims to have found the wreck in the 1980s and sold off its rights to the American salvage company, Sea Search Armada (SSA).

  • USA Claim: Claim They Found it First in The 1980s With Rights of Salvage From The Colombian Government

Colombia claims that that site is not the same as the galleon San Jose and was a different ship. And so the American Sea Search Armada has no rights to it.

Spain's claim to the wreck stems from the fact that the galleon was a military vessel and that there are deceased Spainards within the ship.

  • Spain's Claim: San Jose Was a Spanish Military Ship

Meanwhile, as the legal battle rage on, the treasures remain in the ship and are vulnerable to scavengers and hobbyists.

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Next: Japan's Truk Lagoon is Home To An Extraordinary Number Of Wartime Wrecks, Still Visible Today