|A Spanish Galleon|
It sounds like a fairy tale: billions of dollars in gold, silver and jewels just waiting on the sea floor for anybody who can grab them. Naturally, lots of people want to grab the stuff, including the U.S. company which says it found the three-century-old wreck, and the Colombian government.
Of course, things aren't really so simple. Finding all those old ships isn't easy, nor is salvaging them. In fact, Colombian government government divers who checked out the San Jose's supposed resting place found only a reef. And, if they ever do manage to salvage a significant portion of the gold in the world's seas, world gold prices would plummet, eliminating the profits. On the other hand, since most of the things to be salvaged from these old ships are supposed to be historical treasures, and therefore unsellable, they could turn into a burden. What would Colombia do with a thousand ships worth of necklaces and ignots? It could go bankrupt building museums and safes to protect them.
|A gold cross. (Foto: ns.gov.gu)|
Whoever finally gets the San Jose - and the U.S. salvage company is appealing the court ruling - has little relationship to who has the moral right to it. The treasures came from Peru, where they were undoubtedly ripped out of the earth and sea on the backs of enslaved African and Indigenous American laborers. So, it's hard to see how Colombia, a nation which didn't even exist at the time, can lay any moral claim to the San Jose. Perhaps any treasure should be returned to Peru's indigenous people - but I won't bet on it.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours