Colombia to build museum to showcase shipwreck discovery

BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia will build a museum to showcase artifacts found in the wreckage of a Spanish galleon discovered near the historic Caribbean port city of Cartagena, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Saturday.

The San Jose, thought by historians to be laden with emeralds and precious coins, sank in 1708. It was part of the fleet of King Philip V, who fought the English during the War of Spanish Succession.

“We will build a great museum here in Cartagena,” Santos said on national television from Cartagena’s naval base.

“Without a doubt, without room for any doubt, we have found, 307 years after it sank, the San Jose galleon,” Santos said.

A team of international experts, the Colombian navy and the country’s archaeology institute discovered the wreck last week near the island of Baru, the president said.

Sonar images have so far revealed bronze cannons made specifically for the ship, arms, ceramics and other artifacts.

Some 600 people died in the shipwreck, Santos said.

Archaeological excavation and scientific tests on the wreck will continue to ensure it can be properly preserved, Santos said.

The San Jose was the subject of a legal dispute between Colombia and Sea Search Armada (SSA), a U.S.-based salvage company. SSA said in 1981 it had located the area where the ship sank.

The company and the government agreed to split any proceeds from the wreckage, but the government later said all treasure would belong to Colombia, a view that was backed by a U.S. court in 2011.

Few government spokespeople will be able to speak further on the galleon until more investigations are completed, Santos said. It was unclear how much of the body of the ship remained and whether it would be brought to dry land.

Reporting by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Stephen Powell