Sunken galleon found off Panama coast

Panama City - A sunken galleon dating from the Spanish Conquest carrying a cargo valued at some $50-million has been found by scientists off Panama's Pacific coast, Panama's National Culture Institute said on Tuesday.

The ship named San Jose sunk on June 17, 1631, in the archipelago of the Pearl Islands some 100km south of Panama City, according to the culture institute.

Historians had known the general location of the ship for a number of years, the institute said. But after the discovery of the Spanish galleon Vizcaina on Panama's Caribbean coast in November, the institute launched a new effort earlier this year to document the exact position and the cargo of the San Jose.

No immediate plans have been made to salvage the shipwrecked San Jose and the Vizcaina.

"It is a very costly business and we need outside funding," a culture institute spokeswoman said.

Director Rafael Ruiloba recently told Reuters that Panama was in talks with various international donors to aid the salvages and the Vizcaina would likely be rescued next year.

Loaded with around 700 tons of treasure including silver and gold ingots bound for Spain, the ship left the port of Callao on Peru's Pacific coast, making a stopover in Ecuador, before heading toward Panama City, the institute said.

The ageing ship, which had been sailing for 20 years in tropical waters, sank after crashing into rocks off one of the Pearl Islands, institute research showed.

During the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, Panama served as the central point for gold and silver shipments between the mines of Peru and imperial Spain.

Galleons laden with treasure were offloaded in Panama City and transported across the isthmus by mule train to be set onto ships on the Caribbean coast headed for Spain.

The discovery of the San Jose, part of the Spanish South Seas Armada, follows the uncovering of the Vizcaina, one of four ships that sailed on Christopher Columbus' final voyage to the Americas in 1501.

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