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New Details of Sunken Treasure Ship Released


A picture released by the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History that is said to show the wreck of the Spanish treasure ship San Jose. (Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History via AP)
New Details of Sunken Treasure Ship Released
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New details about a 300-year-old sunken treasure ship were released this week with permission from groups involved in the search effort, including Colombia’s government.

The wreck of the Spanish ship San Jose was discovered in November 2015 with the help of a robotic device, an autonomous underwater vehicle. It is based at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the United States.

The institution reported details of the discovery on Monday.

Rob Munier works for WHOI, which is a private, not-for-profit group. He said, “We’ve been holding this under wraps out of respect for the Colombian government.”

The exact place where the San Jose went down was a mystery for more than three centuries. It is sometimes called the “holy grail” of shipwrecks.

By any measure, the sailing ship was very large in size and the treasure it held. The three-masted ship was carrying gold, silver and jewels when it sank. The San Jose had 62 large guns. But it was sunk on June 8, 1708 with 600 people in a battle with British ships in the War of Spanish Succession.

The San Jose may be the largest treasure ship ever found. Some suggest all the valuables could be worth as much as $17 billion.

The WHOI was invited to join the search because of its expertise in deep sea exploration.

Crews used an autonomous underwater vehicle called the REMUS 6000. It helped find the wreckage of an Air France passenger airplane in 2009. The plane crashed in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, hundreds of kilometers off the coast of Brazil.

The REMUS 6000 discovered the wreck of the San Jose in more than 600 meters of water in November 2015. It took sonar images of the ship.

The vehicle then got within 9 meters of the wreck to take pictures. Some of these include dolphin engravings on the San Jose’s cannons.

Mike Purcell is an engineer for the Woods Hole institution and was a leader in the search effort. He said the wreck is partly covered with sediment. But he said the images were good enough to show identifying markings.

Rob Munier received a telephone call from Purcell, but was far from the shipwreck. “It was a pretty strong feeling of gratification to finally find it,” Munier said. “It was a great moment.”

However, ownership of the treasure is the subject of legal battles. The Associated Press reports that there are legal cases involving nations and private companies over claims to the shipwreck.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has called on Colombia not to exploit the historic shipwreck for financial gain.

Colombia has not signed the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. The treaty requires countries to follow international rules and to inform UNESCO of what will be done with shipwrecks.

For now, the San Jose remains at the sea bottom. Where it rests is a state secret for Colombia.

I’m Mario Ritter.

Mario Ritter adapted this Associated Press story for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

under wraps –adj. something that is being withheld or hidden for a later time

holy grail – (literary) n. something that is greatly desired but is very hard to get

mast – n. a tall pole on a sailing ship that supports a sail or sails

sonar – n. a device that uses sound waves to find things underwater

engravings –n. details that are cut into the surface of wood, stone or metal

cannon – n. a large, heavy run

sediment – n. material that sinks to the bottom of water forming a layer

gratification – n. a feeling of being happy or satisfied with something

moment – n. a point in time

exploit – v. to use up, often in an unfair way

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