Colombian naval personnel conducting underwater surveillance of the long-sunken San Jose galleon uncovered two other historical shipwrecks nearby, President Ivan Duque announced on Monday.

The San José was sunk by British warships more than 300 years ago when it was carrying approximately 200 tons (180 metric tons) of gold, silver, and jewels destined for France, which was then allied with the Spanish royal court. The galleon sank somewhere on the Bar Peninsula, south of Cartagena, Colombia, as a result of the naval combat.

Decades of litigation have surrounded its potential recovery.

According to Spain, the San José was a Spanish ship of state when it sank, and Spain still owns everything on board under international accords. The Qhara Qhara people of Bolivia are also claiming the treasure, stating that the Spanish forced their forefathers to mine most of it in the 16th century.

According to the Associated Press, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) encouraged Colombia not to "commercially exploit" - that is, salvage - the shipwreck in 2018, but the new step indicates that Colombia's government intends to recover it regardless.


A remotely operated vehicle reached 900m depth, according to Duque and navy officials in a video message, allowing for additional footage of the debris.

The vehicle also uncovered two more adjacent wrecks: a colonial boat and a schooner supposed to date from roughly the time of Colombia's independence from Spain, some 200 years ago.

"We now have two other discoveries in the same area, that show other options for archaeological exploration," navy commander Admiral Gabriel Perez said. "So the work is just beginning."

The photographs provide the clearest picture yet of the wealth aboard the San Jose, which included gold ingots and coins, cannons manufactured in Seville in 1655, and a complete Chinese dinner set.

Officials added the inscriptions are helping archaeologists from the navy and government figure out where the plates came from.

"The idea is to recover it and to have sustainable financing mechanisms for future extractions," President Ivan Duque said. "In this way, we protect the treasure, the patrimony of the San Jose galleon."

For the time being, the wreck of the San José and its multibillion-dollar treasure lie on the seafloor off the coast of Colombia, with no practical actions taken to retrieve it. According to AFP, the government believes that salvaging what it calls a "national treasure," will cost around $70 million, and it wants it displayed in a museum to be established in Cartagena.