BELLEVUE, Wash. — Treasure hunting is inherently risky and those who invest often don’t see a return.
Bellevue resident Ken Harbeston knows the risk, and for 30 years, he has been trying to reap the rewards.
In 1981, Harbeston and a group of investors spent $12 million to rent a deep water submarine.
They were searching for the holy grail of shipwrecks, the San Jose.
The San Jose sank in a battle off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia, in 1708.
It was filled with gold and silver that could be worth up to $17 billion today.
While searching the ocean floor, Harbeston found the ship.
"There were wood piles and an iron cannon," said Harbeston.
In 1982, he notified the Colombian government and said he was promised that he, and his investors, would receive half of whatever was found.
For the past three decades, Harbeston said the Colombian government has refused to allow him anywhere near the San Jose.
"They made it very clear to us, in writing, that if we tried to go back, they would meet us with military force," said Harbeston.
On Saturday, the president of Colombia announced that researchers had found a wreck matching the San Jose.
It was a jaw-dropping moment for Jack Harbeston. "I had a hot flash. I was stunned. It was a sense of betrayal."
Harbeston is 83 years old now.
Some of the investors in his company, Sea Search Armada -- including actor Michael Landon and Watergate conspirator John Ehrlichman -- have died.
Harbeston believes he and the other investors will eventually see their money.
“I wouldn't keep hanging on if I didn't. To me, the big issue is it's not right.”
Harbeston’s office is filled with memorabilia from other shipwrecks, including gold, ivory and Ming Dynasty dishes.
His focus remains on the San Jose.
"I believe it's probably the richest shipwreck that ever happened," said Harbeston.
The fight between Sea Search Armada and the Colombian government will continue in the courts.
Harbeston and his investors have already spent $200,000 in legal fees.
The Supreme Court of Colombia has ruled in Harbeston's favor, but the government continues its pursuit of the biggest treasure in shipwreck history.
“They want the San Jose and they want all of it and they don't want to pay for it," said Harbeston.