ALERTA: El río Juan Díaz se sale de su cauce en el centro comercial Los Pueblos.

Spanish version

CULTURE

Concession for treasure hunt raises questions

Some 3,000 coins were found in a 17th-century shipwreck.

Spanish version

Authorities have seized hundreds of colonial coins that were found on a ship that sank in the Las Perlas archipelago during the 17th century.

The coins were found by the company Investigaciones Marinas del Istmo, S.A. from a ship called the San Jose. 

National Institute of Culture (Inac) Heritage Director Wilhelm Franqueza reported that an official of the company was found with the coins in a suitcase. He said that although the company has a valid concession, it must inform the authorities when it removes any treasure.

"There are regulations that must be met," he said.

The coins are in the custody of customs while the investigation is being conducted.

The concession expires next month. Although the last administration signed an extension until 2018, it has been revoked.

Some 3,000 coins have been seized. Their value could range from $100 to $1,000, depending on the condition. According to the concession, 35 percent of anything recovered by the firm belongs to the state.

Company representative Saturio Segarra stressed that the company was not trying to smuggle the coins out of the country, and instead needed to have them authenticated by the government before the could be sold. 

At the same time, he warned that if the authorities decide not to return the coins, the company will take legal action because of the considerable expense in finding and removing them.

"We have provided the necessary evidence to show that these coins are ours," said the official.

The work being done by the company has come under the scrutiny of Unesco, which is examining the identification, extraction and sale of objects from the galleon. It has proposed a management plan for the conservation of the San Jose and the goods from his shipwreck.

Unesco technicians will return to the country in October to make an inspection of the shipwreck.

Historian Alfredo Castillero said the granting of the concession was irresponsible due to the wreck's historic importance.

"These finds are of great importance", he said.

In 2003, Panama ratified a convention against the commercial exploitation and looting of wrecks.

San Jose was built in 1611 and sank on June 17, 1631 while sailing from Callao, Peru, to Panama with a cargo of gold and silver.

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