$20 Billion Under the Sea: Historic Relic or Fair Game for Treasure Hunters?

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Jake Cain is an entrepreneur and writer from Cincinnati, Ohio. He spends his free time driving around the country in his late 90’s conversion van, affectionately known as the “Monster Van” with his wife and 3 boys.

An American firm and the Colombian government are in a fierce contest to claim ownership of a treasure trove estimated to be worth a staggering $20 billion. This trove, down at the bottom of the sea, is hidden inside the Spanish galleon, San Jose, which sunk off the Colombian coast in 1708 during a battle with the British navy.

This shipwreck, now situated 3,000 feet beneath the ocean’s surface, was laden with 200 tons of treasure. Among the priceless valuables are fine china scattered across the sea bed, silver and gold coins, and chests filled with emeralds. These treasures were originally seized from mines employing slave labor.

The Colombian President has reportedly urged the country’s Minister of Culture to expedite the shipwreck’s recovery before the end of his term in 2026. However, the American company Sea Search Armada (SSA) asserts that they have a rightful claim to half of the treasure. They argue that they had discovered the wreck in the 1980s and had struck a deal with Colombia to share the treasury’s value in exchange for the coordinates.

Reflecting on the unfolding drama, YouTube user frankvuong1080 expressed concern about the precedent this situation might set. The user argued that if Colombia does not provide a significant finder’s fee to SSA, other treasure hunters might prefer to work with private businesses instead of governments.

However, other views on this issue vary widely. User ec6052 noted, “You can all argue over who gets it but it’s in Colombian waters, so it’s up to Colombia to decide who can go get it. Which I would imagine, they would pick themselves. As anyone would…”

This sentiment was echoed by user highwindnft2880, who suggested that though a 50/50 split might not be fair, the company should be compensated because “it wasn’t free to find the shipwreck.”

Contrary to these views, some YouTube users found the government’s actions questionable. User Greenpoloboy3 posted, “Such a thing should not be rushed… He likely wants to nick loads of it”, indicating suspicions of potential misuse of the treasure.

However, the Colombian government maintains their stance that these treasures are a national heritage and cannot be divided. They intend to place the recovered artifacts in a national museum for public appreciation. In 2015, the Colombian Navy announced plans to recover the remains.

Despite the unfolding contest and legal battles, several users have expressed hopes that the recovered items will be used for public benefit. YouTube user Zooom88 wished, “I hope they keep everything for public display. So people can see how cool and awesome pirate treasures are in real life.”

The recovery of the shipwreck will be an incredible, time-consuming, and expensive task, requiring specialized diving equipment to work at such extreme ocean depths. As the saga of the $20 billion shipwreck treasure continues to unfold, the world watches with bated breath. Whether the San Jose’s long-lost riches will end up bolstering Colombia’s national treasury, lining private pockets, or becoming a spectacle for public enjoyment — only time will tell.

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