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Copyright © 1987 Forbes
ForbesSeptember 7, 1987, 116:2
LENGTH: 326 words
HEADLINE: Romancing the wreck
BYLINE: By William G. Flanagan
Psst! Wanna buy some sunken treasure futures? Public fascination with salvage operations on wrecks like the Atocha, the Andrea Doria, the Titanic and now the Republic is running so strong that at least one salvage operation, Tampa-based Sub-Ocean Salvors International, is thinking about going public.
The company was formed in 1987 to pluck over the Republic, a luxury White Star liner that was en route to the Mediterranean for a two-month pleasure cruise when it was rammed by the Italian ship Florida, loaded with immigrants in 1909. She came to rest in 280 feet of water off Nantucket, and speculation about her cargo has been building ever since. SOSI founder Martin Bayerle feels certain the wreck contains $3 million (face value) in U.S. gold eagles, worth up to $1.6 billion to numismatists. The gold was supposedly bound for Russia, as part of a loan from France to aid the embattled Czar. (Bayerle spent years poring over records in four countries and maintains the secret gold shipment would have been offloaded to a Russian ship at Gibraltar. But hard evidence is lacking.)
To finance the operation, a $2 million limited partnership was offered to investors earlier this year at $25,000 a share. It quickly sold out. Three months later press cameras recorded salvagers uncorking pre-1900 Moët found aboard the salvage [sic, sunken] vessel, but no gold has yet been discovered. (Some ritics doubt there ever was gold aboard.) Brooklyn-born Bayerle is undaunted. He says that recoverable artifacts alone - rare books, wines and passengers' valuables - might be worth enough to cover expenses.
Gold or no, SOSI now finds itself with its own ship, specialized salvage equipment, an experienced crew - and a lot more would-be investors than its limited partnership can accommodate. "We're thinking about going public next," says Michael Gerber, chief financial officer of the company. "There are a lot more wrecks out there," he says. And, it appears, a lot more investors willing to take plunges. - W.G.F.
Photo: Martin Bayerle inspecting a bottle of pre-1900 champagne.