In addition to the San Jose galleon that was transporting gold, silver and precious stones to the Spanish court in the 18th century, two other vessels were discovered under the sea by Colombian naval officers.

Artifacts found in the wreckage of Spanish galleon San Jose, Cartagena, Colombia are seen in this undated handout picture.
Artifacts found in the wreckage of Spanish galleon San Jose, Cartagena, Colombia are seen in this undated handout picture. (Colombian Presidency/Handout / Reuters)

Colombian naval officials conducting underwater monitoring of the long-sunken San Jose galleon have discovered two other historical shipwrecks nearby, President Ivan Duque said on Monday.

In a tweet the president explained that "we have found two additional vessels: one that is from the Colonial period and another that, according to preliminary analyses, corresponds to the Republican period of our history."

The San Jose galleon, thought by historians to be carrying treasure that would be worth billions of dollars, sank in 1708 near Colombia's Caribbean port of Cartagena.

Its potential recovery has been the subject of decades of litigation. "Spain, Colombia and native Bolivian group the Qhara Qhara all laying claim to its bounty," Australian news broadcaster ABC writes.

A remotely operated vehicle reached 900 meters depth, Duque and naval officials said in a video statement, allowing new videos of the wreckage.

The vehicle also discovered two other nearby wrecks - a colonial boat and a schooner thought to be from around the same period as Colombia's war for independence from Spain, some 200 years ago.

"We now have two other discoveries in the same area, that show other options for archaeological exploration," navy commander Admiral Gabriel Perez said.

"So the work is just beginning."

The images offer the best-yet view of the treasure that was aboard the San Jose - including gold ingots and coins, cannons made in Seville in 1655 and an intact Chinese dinner service.

Archaeologists from the navy and government are working to determine the origin of the plates based on inscriptions, the officials said.

"The idea is to recover it and to have sustainable financing mechanisms for future extractions," President Ivan Duque said.

"In this way we protect the treasure, the patrimony of the San Jose galleon."

ABC reports that [e]arlier this year, Colombian Vice-President Marta Lucía Ramírez said in a statement that any artefacts from the wrecks would be placed in a museum, "which will be a source of pride for Colombia, the Caribbean and the world".

She advised that it would be "totally irresponsible" for the treasure to be collected and sold for profit and "a shame for future generations of Colombians".

"Submerged heritage is invaluable, hence the responsibility to protect it until it can be extracted, contributing to the history of Colombia, the Caribbean and the world," she said.

The British navy sunk the San Jose galleon which was transporting gold, silver and precious stones to the Spanish court of King Philip V.

ABC notes that "Spain claims the galleon and its treasure as a 'ship of state' as it belonged to the Spanish navy when it was sunk and is protected as such by United Nations regulations."

Spain also says that the majority of the 600 crew members who died when the ship sank were citizens whose burial rights should be respected.

According to ABC, "the Qhara Qhara's claim says their people were forced to mine the precious metals during the 1500s so the bounty belongs to them."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies