Autonomous vehicle used in discovery of the 'holy grail of shipwrecks'

The "holy grail of shipwrecks" was found off the coast of Colombia and an autonomous vehicle is being hailed as one of the heroes in the discovery effort.

Governments and treasure hunters alike have long been searching for the San José, a Spanish ship that was downed by British forces in the War of the Spanish Succession.

When it sank in 1708, it took an estimated $17 billion in cargo with it, including gold, silver, and emeralds.

In late 2015 and with the help of the REMUS 6000, an autonomous underwater vehicle provided and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the San José was discovered nearly 2,000 feet deep in the waters off Cartagena.

Sonar signals detected by the search vehicle were among the early indications of the wreckage location.

"To confirm the wreck’s identity, REMUS descended to just 30 feet above the wreck where it was able to capture photos of a key distinguishing feature of the San José—its cannons," according to a release by WHOI. "Subsequent missions at lower altitudes showed engraved dolphins on the unique bronze cannons.”

The statement further notes that “WHOI recently obtained authorization by Maritime Archaeology Consultants (MAC), Switzerland AG, and the Colombian government to release new details from the successful search for the three-century old San José.”

The Colombian government plans to build a museum for the display of the ship’s artifacts.