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Copyright © 1985 The Associated Press
The Associated PressJuly 12, 1985, Friday, PM cycle
SECTION: Domestic News
LENGTH: 598 words
HEADLINE: Diver Seeks $500 Million In Sunken Luxury Liner Off Nantucket
DATELINE: MARTHA'S VINEYARD, Mass.
More than 75 years ago, the luxury liner Republic sank in a dense winter fog off Nantucket, carrying millions of gold coins and and a secret pre-World War I intrigue to the bottom of the sea, a deep-sea treasure hunter says.
Martin Bayerle claims the Republic was carrying enough in U.S. gold eagle coins to finance a military buildup in Czarist Russia _ a treasure he now estimates is worth $500 million.
This August, Bayerle plans to send robot cameras 260 feet below the surface 60 miles south of Nantucket to videotape the wreck and pinpoint the location of the coins.
"It's like looking for a closet in the Prudential Center," Bayerle said Thursday. "This is the major difficulty that we face."
By next summer, Bayerle hopes to begin salvaging the Republic and if he recovers the gold, "will live the life I'm unaccustomed to.
"Some people will pursue things for the adventure alone, but with a shipwreck you have the adventure and the possibility of a substanial gain," said Bayerle, a New Yorker who has made 600 dives to sunken wrecks.
"We're trying to make this as much of a business venture as possible."
The Republic was 16 hours out on a two-month Mediterranean cruise on Jan. 23, 1909, when it collided with the Florida, an Italian ship carrying 850 immigrants to New York.
Six people died in the wreck, but more than 2,000 were saved by 83 lifeboats in one of the largest open sea rescues ever.
At the time, the Republic was the largest vessel ever sunk, but was surpassed three years later when its sister ship, the Titanic, hit an iceberg 500 miles south of Newfoundland and sank, claiming about 1,500 lives.
Bayerle said the Republic was carrying $3 million in gold coins purchased by France to lend to the embattled regime of Russian Czar Nicholas II.
The fortune could now be worth as much as $1.6 billion, but is probably closer to $500 million, he said.
Bayerle and a crew of 25 located the Republic in 1981, recovering dinner plates and other artifacts from the wreck. He secured exclusive salvage rights to the ship in U.S. District Court in 1983, but since then, he and his team have been unable to locate the ship's blueprints.
Therein lies part of the intrigue.
Without those plans to help pinpoint the coins, Bayerle said, it could cost $5 million to salvage the boat. With the plans, it could cost $1 million.
He says he has contacted the governments of France, Great Britain and the Soviet Union in search of the blueprints and has researched the archives of the U.S. government, insurance companies, banks and newspapers _ with no luck.
He blames the missing plans on an "international coverup" that took place in 1909 to hide the fact that Russia never received the gold.
"Since this money was intended for Russia, revelations of its loss would have had enormous implications in pre-World War I Europe," he said. "Many official documents from the Republic, including its cargo manifest, cannot be located. I belive that much of this material was destroyed to cover up the loss of the gold."
Bayerle said it took him years of research to determine that the boat was carrying the coins.
"There was no documentation," he said. "There were only rumors."
He said he was finally able to ascertain that the Bank of France purchased the coins through what is now Citibank and the brokerage house of Goldman, Sachs and Co.
The diver said he had financial backers to help cover the salvage, but refused to identify them until next week. He said they will be sponsors of a documentary movie he plans to make of the salvage operation.