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Two governments and a salvage company are fighting over a $17 billion shipwreck

Two governments and a salvage company are fighting over a $17 billion shipwreck

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Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

More than 300 years after sinking off the coast of Colombia, the "holy grail of shipwrecks" has been discovered. With somewhere between $1 billion and $17 billion-worth of booty onboard, three separate entities are laying claim to the San José’s treasure trove. US salvage company Sea Search, and the Columbian and Spanish governments say they’re entitled to the pieces of eight, silver coins, jewels, and other relics onboard, The Guardian reported.

As the flagship of the Spanish armada, the San José ferried treasure from Spain’s South American colonies back to the homeland. These goods funded battles against Britain in the War of Succession. However, in 1708, a British admiral sank the ship off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia in an effort to steal its riches. The ship exploded and sank, killing all but 11 of its 600 crew and passengers. The admiral never boarded.

Sea Search Armada led the search for the ship in the 1980s, which it says is more than enough backing for its ownership claims. The company says it found the wreck location in 1981 and signed a deal with the Colombian government guaranteeing that Search Armada would receive a 35 percent share of the treasure. Colombia’s parliament overturned that agreement, however, and in the country’s mind, ended any dispute. Search Armada says the issues aren’t yet resolved. Spain, on the other hand, is debating whether to fight for the treasure, given its position as the original ship owner.