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Autonomous vehicle helps discover centuries-old shipwreck off coast of Colombia


This November 2015 photo released Monday by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution shows ceramic jars and other items from the 300-year-old shipwreck of the Spanish galleon San Jose on the floor of the Caribbean Sea off the coast of Colombia. (AP)

An autonomous vehicle was used to locate the remains a three-century-old Spanish galleon ship that sank with billions of dollars of treasure aboard.

The San Jose, known as the "holy grail of shipwrecks," was discovered off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia, on Nov. 27, 2015, by a team from the Woods Hols Oceanographic Institution, according to a news release.

Six-hundred people were aboard the ship when it went down with the treasure, including gold, silver and emeralds, during a battle with British ships in the 1708 War of Spanish Succession.

The San Jose was found more than 600 meters below the surface during a search conducted by Maritime Archaeology Consultants.

The discovery was supervised by the Instituto Colombiano de Antropologia e Historia and Direccion General Maritima.

Project leader Roger Dooley said it retained the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for its experience in deep water exploration.

"This partnership was key to the discovery of the San Jose," he said.

WHOI operated an autonomous underwater vehicle to identify the ship's location, according to the news release.

The vehicle, called REMUS 6000, surveyed a designated area off Columbia's Baru Peninsula.

Experts believe the ship's treasure is worth billions of dollars today.
Experts believe the ship's treasure is worth billions of dollars today. (AP)

"The REMUS 6000 was the ideal tool for the job, since it's capable of conducting long duration missions over wide areas," said WHOI expedition leader Mike Purcell.

The REMUS was also key in finding wreckage from the Air France flight that crashed off the coast of Brazil in 2009.

Historical artifacts found in the wreck could provide insight into the economic, social and polycyclic climate in Europe in the early 18th century.

The Colombian Government plans to house the artifacts in a museum dedicated to the wreck's contents.

The REMUS first identified the San Jose by taking photos of its cannons—visible from 30 feet above the wreck.

"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," Purcell said.

"MAC's lead marine archaeologist, Roger Dooley, interpreted the images and confirmed that the San Jose had finally been found," he said.