BOGOTA (Reuters) - The 307-year-old remains of a sunken Spanish galleon found off Colombia's Caribbean coast are the heritage of Colombians, President Juan Manuel Santos said on Tuesday, after Spanish officials expressed interest in the artifacts.
The San Jose galleon, thought by historians to be laden with emeralds and precious coins, sank in 1708. It was discovered at the end of November by a team of international experts near the island of Baru.
Since the discovery, Spanish authorities have said they want to explore their rights to the ship's remains in negotiations with Colombia.
"The galleon is the heritage of Colombians for Colombians," Santos said during the opening of a highway outside the capital, Bogota. "Now many owners are appearing. No sirs, this is Colombian heritage."
"Of course, it is also the heritage of humanity and we are willing to share," the president said.
Colombia plans to build a museum to house finds from the wreck in nearby Cartagena, a popular tourist destination.
Sonar images have so far revealed bronze cannons made specifically for the ship, arms, ceramics and other artifacts.
Some 600 people died in the shipwreck.
The San Jose was the subject of a legal dispute between Colombia and Sea Search Armada (SSA), a U.S.-based salvage company. SSA said in 1981 it had located the area where the ship sank.
The company and the government agreed to split any proceeds from the wreckage. But the government said later any treasure would belong to Colombia, a view backed by a U.S. court in 2011.
Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Peter Cooney