Mar 28, 2011
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A 300-year-old sunken treasure is at the center of a $17 billion lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court of D.C.
It’s pitting nation against nation as an American salvage company tries to hold on to its right to raise the wreck and keep half the treasure.
The origins of the story sound more like a tale of high seas battle than a court document demanding billions.
Some 300 years ago, British naval ships blew-up the Spanish galleon “San Jose” somewhere off the coast of Colombia. The ship and its golden cargo of coins, bullion and artifacts plummeted some 800 feet to the bottom of the sea.
In the 1980s, Jack Harbertson’s salvage company entered into an agreement with the Colombian government: He’d recover the ship and they’d split the booty 50-50.
But once Harbertson’s Sea Search Armada company had enough evidence that it had located the Spanish treasure ship, the Colombian government tried to change the terms of the deal.
Jim Delsordo, attorney for Sea Search Armada, said that at that point the Colombian government told them they weren’t interested in honoring the agreement because they wanted to keep it all for themselves.
Harbertson filed the $17 billion federal lawsuit recently in D.C. federal court. The lawsuit aims to force the Colombian government to obey its own Supreme Court and either pay up or allow Harbeston to bring up the ship.
“I want my life back. Let's settle this thing,” Harbertson said. “I can think of better things, a lot better things to do with my life.”
After 30 years of fighting with the Colombians, Harbertson is afraid the San Jose and all its treasure may forever remain at the bottom of the sea.