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Colombia plans to recover up to $20B in sunken treasure from 'Holy Grail of shipwrecks'

Colombian President Gustavo Petro wants to recover the treasure of the sunken Spanish galleon San José before his term ends in 2026, an officials said.

Colombia is working to speed up the recovery of as much as $20 billion of sunken treasure from a centuries-old shipwreck as a U.S. company sues for half of the findings.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro told officials to exhume the Spanish galleon San José from the Caribbean Sea before his term ends in 2026, Minister of Culture Juan David Correa told Bloomberg in a phone interview last week.

"This is one of the priorities for the Petro administration," Correa. "The president has told us to pick up the pace."

The 62-gun Spanish galleon San José, now known as the "Holy Grail of shipwrecks," was trying to outrun a fleet of British warships off Colombia on June 8, 1708, when the ship was sunk to the bottom of the sea with a trove of gold, silver and emeralds owned by private Peruvian and European merchants. 

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The sunken treasure now lies about 700 feet below the water’s surface, a few miles from the historic Caribbean port of Cartagena, on the edge of the Continental Shelf.

The exact worth of the treasure is unknown, with decades of lawsuits estimating its value at anywhere from $4 billion to $20 billion. The question of who owns the sunken treasure is also in contention.

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In 1981, Glocca Morra, a U.S. company, claimed to have found the trove of gold, silver and emeralds and gave the coordinates to the Colombian government with the agreement of splitting the treasure.

But in 2015, Colombia’s then-President Juan Manuel Santos said the Colombian Navy worked with another company and found the shipwreck at a different location on the sea floor, according to the news outlet.

Glocca Morra, now operating under the name Sea Search Armada, believed that the wreck found by the Colombian Navy is part of the same debris field that was found in 1981. The company is suing the Colombian government for $10 billion — or half of what the fortune is believed to be worth.

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