March 8 (UPI) -- Spain said in a statement issued just after Colombia delayed bids to begin recovery of the gold-loaded San Jose galleon that the ship's remains are an "underwater tomb" and as such cannot be exploited commercially.
"The San José galleon was a Spanish flag warship, which sank in 1708 in the course of a naval battle with 600 sailors on board," Spanish officials said in the statement. "According to international law commonly accepted by all nations, the 'San José' was a State ship. Its remains being considered to be an 'underwater tomb' cannot be exploited commercially."
Spain said it wanted to jointly carry out an archaeological project adjusted to best practices, "respectful of the condition of 'underwater tomb' of the wreck and the competing interests of both countries."
It added that it wanted to salute the recent decision of Colombia to temporarily stop the process to review conditions for the award of the private-public partnership for the recovery of the wreck.
Colombian Vice President Marta Lucia Ramirez said earlier this week that the government had delayed awarding a tender for the recovery process because it was working on guarantees to assure all pieces would remain in Colombia and be exhibited, RCN radio reported Wednesday.
The delay was a precaution taken so that no part of the treasuries, including gold, silver and jewelry, could be used to pay for any part of the salvage work.
The San Jose was the flagship of a fleet taking passengers and riches to Spain, including a gold cargo it had picked up in Panama from Peru.
According to historical reports, those galleons were mixes of cargo, passengers and military transportation in which families and merchants made naval war operations difficult. Of the 600 people on board, only about 133 were war-trained sailors and the rest were mostly passengers.
Reports agree the ship went under very fast with nearly all people on board and all cargo intact. The treasuries lying some 2,000 feet below the surface in the Colombian waters in the Caribbean may be worth up to $20 billion, according to an estimate reported by National Geographic.
According to reports, the San Jose blew up during fire exchanges as hundreds of passengers prayed for help while the fleet led by San Jose's septuagenarian captain Jose Fernandez de Santillan was defeated.
The second most important ship in the fleet was captured.