WOODS HOLE (CBS) — Three years ago, the “holy grail of shipwrecks” was discovered in the Caribbean Sea. Now we know Massachusetts researchers played a key part in finding it.

The San Jose sunk in 1708 during a battle with British ships in the the War of Spanish Succession. For hundreds of years its exact location was unknown, but in 2015 researchers called on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and their underwater autonomous vehicle to help find the ship – and it did.

The ship was believed to be carrying a treasure of gold, silver and emeralds worth $17 billion. The treasure has been subject to legal battles between several nations and private companies and is still sitting at the site of the wreck.

Artifacts from the San Jose shipwreck. (Credit: REMUS image, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

The institution’s underwater vehicle called the REMUS 6000 was able to get within 30 feet of the wreckage and capture photos of a distinguishing feature of the ship – its cannons. REMUS got even closer on later missions to reveal engraved dolphins on the unique cannons.

The San Jose’s cannons. (Credit: REMUS image, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

“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,” said WHOI engineer and expedition leader Mike Purcell in a statement.

REMUS has also been used to map the Titanic wreck site and find the remains of Air France 447 after it crashed off the coast of Brazil in 2011.

The REMUS 6000. (Mike Purcell, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)

A museum is planned to house the shipwreck’s valuable artifacts.

“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 a statement.


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