Experts Disclose New Details About 300-Year-Old Shipwreck

shipwreck colombia WHOI woods hole oceanographic institution cannons

The cannons of the San José. ( Hole Oceanographic Institution)

BOSTON (AP/WBZ-AM) -- The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution says it's uncovered new details about a 300-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Colombia that experts believe contains billions of dollars' worth of treasure.

New insights into the discovery three years ago of the San Jose were released on Monday with permission from the agencies involved in the search, including the Colombian government.

WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Laurie Kirby spoke to WHOI's Vice President for Marine Operations, Rob Munir, about the discovery.

"It does have a fantastic manifest, and it's pretty well documented, so I think that's one of the reasons why this has been of such interest for a long time," Munir said. "I mean, this is something that people have been interested in finding for as long as those types of excitements have existed, and now the technologies are much advanced that allow us to do such things."

The 62-gun, three-masted galleon went down on June 8, 1708, with a treasure of gold, silver and emeralds during a battle with British ships in the War of Spanish Succession.

"There's deemed to be treasure, and in fact some of the images that we collected would substantiate that," Munir said. "There's also fantastic artifacts from the time, including lots of cannon, and the cannon themselves, because of their historic nature and the incredible condition that they're in are also very important finds--as well as other artifacts like tea cups and containers and things like that. But certainly, the treasure, in terms of gold coin and jewelry, is what has been the draw."

The Massachusetts-based WHOI's autonomous underwater vehicle, a REMUS 6000, descended to 30 feet (9 meters) above the wreck to take several photographs in November 2015.

"It's a autonomous underwater vehicle," Munir says of REMUS. "It's deeper than 600 meters of water depth, so it puts it in reasonably deep water--though the REMUS 6000 can go to 6000 meters, and in fact, the same vehicle was used to find the Air France 447 plane off of Brazil five or six years ago."

The photos taken included some of the distinctive dolphin engravings on the San Jose's brass cannons, a key piece of visual evidence.

"You can see the outline of the gunnel," he said. "It's actually buried in the sediment, but you can see the outline of the ship as it's buried in the sediment. You can get a good sense of its shape and size, but you're not looking at the hull proud on the sea floor."

Munir said WHOI's job was just to find and verify the ship--as for what to do with the ship and its artifacts next, that's the Colombian government's decision.

"The goal for the Colombian government is to create a museum in Cartagena, and this will be a centerpiece of that museum," he said. "There's going to be essentially an archaeological dig that will go on at the site for some time to come."

To read more about the discovery and view more images, visit the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution website here.

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WBZ NewsRadio 1030's Laurie Kirby reports

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