U.S. Firm Demands Rights to $17 Billion 1708 Shipwreck off the Coast of Colombia

     WASHINGTON (CN) - Sea Search Armada, a Bellevue, Wash.-based salvage company, claims the Republic of Colombia owes it $4 billion to $17 billion for breaching a contract granting it the right to salvage the galleon San Jose, sunk by the British Navy on June 8, 1708. Sea Search says the San Jose was carrying coins and bullion owned by private Peruvian and European merchants, and lies about 1,000 feet deep on the edge of the Continental Shelf.
     The 41-page federal lawsuit rehearses a long, tortuous passage through the Colombian courts after the Glocca Morra Co. identified six shipwreck locations, between 1980 and 1985, operating with permission of Colombia's Direccion General Maritima.
     Sea Search claims Glocca Morra transferred its rights to Sea Search, which included the right to 35 percent of the treasures recovered from the San Jose. Colombia tried to weasel out of the deal after Sea Search recovered timber and other materials from the ship, proving it was down there. Colombia "delayed signing the written agreement it had drafted, and eventually refused to sign the offer it had made to SSA," the complaint states.
     But Sea Search (SSA) claims it had rights, due to the assignment from Glocca Morra, but nonetheless Colombia refused to let it salvage the shipwreck.
     In 1984 the Colombian Parliament pass the "Seizure Law," giving Colombia all rights to the San Jose treasure, except for a 5 percent finder's fee subject to 45 percent tax.
     Sea Search sued in Colombia, calling the Seizure Law retroactive and unconstitutional, and the Colombian Supreme Court agreed in 1994, giving Sea Search rights to 50 percent of the San Jose treasure, and the other half to Colombia, according to the complaint.
     Sea Search says Colombia still refuses to let it salvage the shipwreck, and has taken a series of actions in bad faith, for decades, to prevent it from doing so. It demands $4 bill to $17 billion - the estimated value of the treasure - and damages for breach of contract and conversion, and enforcement of the foreign judgment.
     It is represented by James DelSordo of Manassas, Va.