Shipwreck laden with billions in treasure discovered off Colombia

An estimated $17 billion was lost when the San José sank in 1708.

The sinking of the San José as depicted in a 1772 landscape by British painter Samuel Scott. (Photo: Samuel Scott)

The decorative carvings on these cannons allowed researchers to confirm the wreck as the remains of the San José. (Photo: REMUS image, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

Do these centuries-old tea cups sit upon treasure worth more than $17 billion? (Photo: REMUS image, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The wreck of the San José, a long-lost treasure galleon of the Spanish Navy, has finally been located off the coast of Colombia.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), with permission from the Colombian government, made the announcement of the discovery earlier this week, adding that the wreck’s final resting spot has been a closely guarded secret for almost three years.

“We’ve been holding this under wraps out of respect for the Colombian government,” Rob Munier, WHOI’s vice president for marine facilities and operations, told the AP.

Part of the Spanish treasure fleet, the San José was a 64-gun, three-masted galleon built in 1698 and tasked with shipping vast quantities of gold, silver, emeralds and jewelry from the South American colonies to Spain. On June 8, 1708, the vessel was sailing with the treasure fleet when it was ambushed by a British squadron off Colombia. During the battle that ensued, the San José’s powder magazines detonated, destroying the ship and taking an estimated $17 billion in previous metals and gems to the bottom of the sea.

Of the 600 people aboard, only 11 survived the sinking.

According to the WHOI, the final resting spot of the San José was finally discovered more than 300 years later at an undisclosed site off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia, on Nov. 27, 2015. An international team of scientists and engineers located the wreck at a depth of some 2,000 feet using side sonar and an autonomous underwater vehicle called REMUS 6000. The vehicle, which also mapped the wreck of the Titanic in 2010, was able to provide positive identification of the San José by locating and photographing the legendary vessel’s distinctive cannons.

“The wreck was partially sediment-covered, but with the camera images from the lower altitude missions, we were able to see new details in the wreckage and the resolution was good enough to make out the decorative carving on the cannons,” WHOI engineer and expedition leader Mike Purcell said in a statement. “MAC’s (Maritime Archaeology Consultants) lead marine archaeologist, Roger Dooley, interpreted the images and confirmed that the San José had finally been found.”

While the WHOI or any of the other participating agencies did not reveal whether any of the gold, silver, or emeralds the San José was carrying was detected, the images captured by REMUS do show several cannons, tea cups, and ceramic jugs littering the wreck site.

Should Colombia successfully excavate the site, the WHOI says the government is planning on building a “a museum and world-class conservation laboratory” to preserve and publicly display the wreck’s contents.

“We are pleased to have played a part in settling one of the great shipwreck mysteries for the benefit of the Colombian people and maritime history buffs worldwide,” WHOI Vice President for Marine Facilities and Operations Rob Munier said in the same statement. “We look forward to our continued involvement to answer the basic oceanographic research questions associated with the find.”

The 62 richest people have as much wealth as half the world


by Tami Luhby

The world’s 62 richest billionaires have as much wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population, according to a new report from Oxfam International.

The wealthiest have seen their net worth soar over the five years ending in 2015. Back in 2010, it took 388 mega-rich people to own as much as half the world.

And the Top 1% own more than everyone else combined — a milestone reached in 2015, a year earlier than Oxfam had predicted.

Oxfam released its annual report ahead of the World Economic Forum in the Swiss city of Davos, a yearly gathering of political and financial leaders. The study draws from the Forbes annual list of billionaires and Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Databook.

The anti-poverty group, whose leader co-chaired the forum last year, wants to call even more attention to the widening wealth divide. The top 62 saw their net worth rise by more half a trillion dollars between 2010 and 2015, while the 3.6 billion people in the bottom half of the heap lost a trillion dollars.

Each group has $1.76 trillion.

“Wealth is moving rapidly to concentrate at the tippy, tippy top of the pyramid,” said Gawain Kripke, the director of policy and research at Oxfam America.

he income gap between the richest and poorest is also growing. The poorest 20% of the world — who live below the extreme poverty line, living on less than $1.90 a day — barely saw their incomes budge between 1988 and 2011, while the most prosperous 10% enjoyed a 46% jump.

“The global economy is not working to pull these people out of extreme poverty,” said Deborah Hardoon, Oxfam’s deputy head of research.

A separate report published last year by the Pew Research Center found that poverty worldwide has fallen by nearly half over the past decade. Still, 71% of the world’s population remain low-income or poor, living off $10 or less a day.

As for a global middle class, Pew called it more promise than reality. While the middle class has nearly doubled over the decade to 13% in 2011, it still represents a small fraction of the world’s population.

To help counter inequality, Oxfam is renewing its call for global leaders to crack down on tax havens, where the rich have socked away $7.6 trillion, the group estimates.

Other things Oxfam is advocating: pay workers a living wage and protect workers’ right to unionize; end the gender pay gap and promote equal inheritance and land rights for women; minimize the power of big business and lobbyists on governments; shift the tax burden away from labor and consumption and towards wealth and capital gains, and use public spending to tackle inequality.

The richest 1% in the world is about to own more than everyone else put together

We all know the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer — but the inequality gap may be widening faster than you think. Within two years, the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of people on the planet, a new study says.

Just in time for the billionaire-and-politician get-together in Davos, Switzerland, Oxfam’s report on Monday lays out the increasing concentration of global wealth among a small elite.

This first chart, based on Credit Suisse Data from 2000-2014, shows how the bottom 99% has been losing wealth over the past decade or so, and the top 1% has been gaining:

“In 2014, the richest 1% of people in the world owned 48% of global wealth, leaving just 52% to be shared between the other 99% of adults on the planet,” said development organization Oxfam in its report. Nearly all of that remainder is owned by people in the richest 20%, and just 5.5% goes to 80% of the world’s population.

And then here’s the depressing kicker: “If this trend continues, of an increasing wealth share to the richest, the top 1% will have more wealth than the remaining 99% of the people in just two years … with the wealth share of the top 1% exceeding 50% by 2016,” said Oxfam.

Here’s the chart on that:


The most commonly cited source of wealth for the rich is a Wall Street connection, said Oxfam.

Among the “predominantly male and greying” elite who’ve made money from the financial sector is Berkshire Hathaway BRK.B, +1.10% BRK.A, +0.95% chief Warren Buffett, whose pile increased 9% between 2013 and 2014 to $58.2 billion. He’s at the top, followed by Bloomberg LP founder Michael Bloomberg, worth $33 billion — a 22% gain on the previous year. Carl Icahn is third with a tally of $24.5 billion, up 23%.

On November, Oxfam told us that the members of the “world’s richest” club make half-a-million bucks per minute, and that it would take Microsoft MSFT, +1.67% founder Bill Gates 218 years to spend all its wealth.

Hammering its point home a year ago, Oxfam told us that the wealth of the 85 richest people around the world was equal to the assets held by half the world’s population. That report was released ahead of the 2014 edition of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

In 2010, it took 388 billionaires to equal the wealth of the bottom half of the world’s population. Last year, that figure was down to just 80, said Oxfam. In other words, 3.5 billion people together owned the same amount as 80 wealthy people. Here’s the chart that lays that out: