According to a recent publication from the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA), which oversees the proceeding, the US treasure hunter Company, Sea Search Armada, has submitted an arbitration claim against Colombia. In December 2022, Sea Search Armada notified the arbitration which is subject to the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Arbitration Rules. Translation provided by JIGGSLAW®.

Claimant is requesting $10 billion for Colombia’s expropriation of the San Jose Spanish galleon, which is a treasure discovered more than 40 years ago by previous investors.

The tribunal of this arbitration is composed by Stephen Drymer, who acts as the tribunal’s president, and Stephen Jagusch KC and Claus Von Wobeser.

The Dispute 

Early in 1980s, Glocca Morra Company, the predecessor of the Sea Search Armada, which was supported by American citizens predominantly, requested and obtained the authorisation of Colombia to search and inform of any discovery in Colombian waters related to the shipwreck of a 300-year-old Spanish galleon, known as San Jose, which transported a treasure of more than $20.000 billion (current value).

Further to the investigation and search, they came across a big wreckage which turned out to be the San José, and reported it to the Colombian authorities. According to the Notification of Arbitration, Colombia acknowledges Glocca as the “claimant” of its discovery, the discoverer of the treasure with a right to 50% of its product and a preferential access to a rescue agreement. The company and the Colombian authorities began negotiating a rescue agreement on this basis but negotiations stalled.

After 20 years of litigation before both the Colombian  and foreign courts, in 2007 the Colombian Supreme Court ruled that Sea Search had rights to the 50% of the treasure it had discovered and reported.

Despite the rulings of its courts and according to a document submitted before the PCA, Colombia refused to recognise the rights and opted to expropriate it. In January 2020 the Ministry of Culture issued a decision declaring that San Jose was not a treasure but rather a “ Good of National Cultural Interest” that did not fall under the Supreme Court’s ruling.

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