Controversy Surrounds Exploration of San José Galleon Amid Allegations of Looting
In a recent turn of events, the Minister of Culture’s confirmation of the exploration of the San José galleon in 2024 has sparked controversy. The National Oversight of Submerged Cultural Heritage of Colombia (VNPCS) has formally requested President Gustavo Petro to reconsider this decision in light of allegations of looting, as a criminal complaint unfolds in the Attorney General’s Office.
The Galleon San José was a 64-gun, three-masted galleon of the Spanish Armada de la Guardia de la Carrera de las Indias. It was launched in 1698 and sank in battle off Barú Island, just south of Cartagena, Colombia, in 1708, while laden with gold, silver and emeralds worth about US$17 billion as of 2023.
The sunken ship was located 600 m deep by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in November 2015. In July 2017, it was announced that a salvage operation managed by the Colombian government would proceed.
Minister Juan David Correa had previously outlined the exploration plans, stating, “Between March, April, and May, we will conduct the initial extraction of some materials. Once extracted, these materials will be subjected to laboratory analysis.” However, the anticipated expedition may face delays due to the latest developments.
In a formal document, Francisco Hernando Muñoz Atuesta, the Director General of VNPCS, urged President Petro to refrain from any exploration on the San José galleon, citing concerns about the “presumed looting of the archaeological context.” The VNPCS insists on a “judicial inspection of the scene” before proceeding with the expedition, emphasizing the importance of preserving the archaeological integrity of the site.
The call for caution comes as the VNPCS initiates legal proceedings to address the alleged looting, underscoring the need for a thorough investigation before embarking on any exploratory activities. The controversy adds a layer of complexity to the planned expedition, raising questions about the potential impact on the historical and cultural significance of the San José galleon.
As stakeholders await a response from President Petro, the fate of the 2024 exploration hangs in the balance, with the call for a judicious examination of the situation echoing throughout Colombia’s cultural preservation community.
Sources: El Espectador, Wikipedia