A Spanish ship hauling gold and silver that sank to the bottom of the Caribbean Sea more than 300 years ago was found with the help of an underwater autonomous robot.
In 1708, the San José, a 62-gun galleon carrying a treasure worth £12.6 billion ($17 billion) was sunk by British warships. Described as the holy grail of shipwrecks, the Spanish ship contained one of the most valuable hauls of treasure ever lost at sea.
It was found three years ago off the coast of Colombia by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s (WHOI) underwater robot, though details about the treasure have only been released recently.
Rob Munier, WHOI’s vice president for marine facilities and operations, said: “We’ve been holding this under wraps out of respect for the Colombian government.”
According to WHOI, the San Jose, which is sitting at a depth of more than 600 meters (2,000 ft.) of water, was found by a REMUS 6000 robot that used sonar to find it.
WHOI expedition leader Mike Purcell explained, “During that November expedition, we got the first indications of the find from side scan sonar images of the wreck.”
“From those images, we could see strong sonar signal returns, so we sent REMUS back down for a closer look to collect camera images.”
“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.”
The wreck has been shrouded in secrecy, as the treasure has been the subject of legal battles between several nations. As far as treasure is concerned, it still remains on the seabed.