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Copyright © 2006 Lost Treasure, Inc.
Lost Treasure MagazineApril, 2006
LENGTH: 1,079 words
HEADLINE: Treasure News: Treasure Ship Mystery May Soon Be Solved
BYLINE: by Anthony M. Belli
Preparations are now underway by New York resident and treasure hunter, Capt. Martin Bayerle, head of Martha Vineyards Scuba Headquarters, to raise the ill-fated RMS Republic from her watery grave located about 50 miles south of Nantucket in 270 feet of water. Although controversial and admittedly based largely on circumstantial evidence, the RMS Republic may hold one of the vastest treasures ever lost at sea.
The RMS Republic, a Royal Mail Ship commissioned to carry both British and U.S. Mail is remembered as being one of the most “palatial” steamships of her time. Built by Harland and Wolff of Belfast in 1903 and commissioned in 1904, the RMS Republic was the flagship of the White Star Line’s Boston and New York-European Service.
At 3 p.m. on Friday, January 22, 1909, the Republic outbound from New York entered the busy sea-lanes northwards following the U.S. coastline before heading into the North Atlantic. Under the command of Captain Inman Sealby, an experienced officer with the White Star Lines, the ship proceeded without incident until the early morning hours of Saturday, January 23rd when fog appeared reducing the helmsman’s visibility to minimal. Sealby ordered reduced speed and began sounding the foghorn.
Just before 4 a.m., the sleeping passengers were jolted from their beds by an immense crash that echoed throughout the ship. In heavy fog, the RMS Republic had been rammed on her port side by the inbound Italian liner, the S.S. Florida. Boilers ruptured and severed steam lines brought the Republic to a stop. Without steam, the Republic lost all control over maneuverability and propulsion. Emergency battery power came on but was soon exhausted. With 1,500 crew and passengers on board, the “unsinkable” Republic was dead in the water.
Six people were killed in the crash, three from each ship. Although the extent of the damage was yet unknown, Capt. Sealby immediately evacuated the lower decks bringing passengers and crew to the upper decks to be transferred to the Florida, which still had power. Although damage to the Florida was extensive, the ship could hold its position during the rescue. The Republic however had the forward 70 feet of the Florida’s bow left stuck in her port side leaving her adrift and at the mercy of the sea.
The Republic had recently installed a Marconi Wireless radio, considered the height of communication technology for the period, capable of transmitting and receiving a radio signal up to 200 miles distant. Jack Binns, the Republic’s Marconi operator made his way through the dark to a storage locker where he seized portable batteries for the wireless. At 6:30 a.m. Binns, who was working from the Republic’s smashed radio room, got battery power to the wireless and began transmitting the very first distress signal using the latest technology.
“C.Q.D. … C.Q.D. … Attention all stations. Distress. The Republic rammed by unknown steamer 175 east of Ambrose Light. Lat. 40.7, Lon. 70.” Binns remained at his station for nearly 18 hours and successfully vectored seven other ships to the Republic’s position.
Amazingly, the only loss of life were the first six fatally killed in the crash, 1,500 people were successfully rescued. When Binns abandoned his post, the radio room was filling with water. He was later hailed a hero and was given a ticker tape parade in his honor through lower Manhattan. To date, the Republic was the largest most technologically advanced ship to sink. She would be surpassed just three years later when another “unsinkable” White Star Liner; the Titanic sank after striking an iceberg.
Almost immediately after the sinking of the RMS Republic, a mystery began to unfold concerning state secrets and gold shipments on board that if recovered today would be worth as much as 15 billion U.S. dollars. At the center of controversy are two secret government gold shipments, one is said to be 15 tons of gold bars, the other is a five-ton shipment of recently minted American Gold Eagles with a 1909 face value of $3 million.
Since the ship was considered unsinkable, once rescue operations ceased no attempt was made to recover the ship’s cargo or baggage. While in tow back to New York, the Republic sank in rough seas. The White Star Liner Co. confirmed that a US Navy payroll consigned to the USN Atlantic Fleet at Gibraltar of $265,000 at 1909 values went down that today is estimated to be worth $50 to $70 million. An undetermined amount of Italian earthquake relief funds and a cargo of silver ingots and personal jewelry worth hundreds of thousands of dollars by 1909 standards were also lost at sea.
For years skeptics have cited that had such a treasure been on board, officials would’ve acted promptly to secure it before allowing the Republic to be towed back to port. According to The Republican skeptic Paul Lawton, a naval historian and Brockton lawyer claims rumors of gold on the Republic began to surface after two “poorly researched” books on shipwrecks in U.S. waters appeared in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. He cites the shipwreck of the SS Republic which sank off the Georgia coast in the 1880’s that was confirmed to have on board a cargo of American Eagles. “My belief is that faulty research actually transposed facts from one to the other,” he said.
Bayerle, who discovered the wreck of the RMS Republic in 1981 and has spent much of his life researching the wreck, disagrees. First he cites that the rumors of the treasure cargo surfaced immediately after the ship went down, not decades later. His website devoted to the history of the RMS Republic presents several near century old documents recovered during research that support his position, including a 1930 letter housed in the National Archives signed by Capt. Chiswell of the USCG, which reads, in part, “Unofficial information at the time suggested that the Republic may have had on board $3,000.000 in American Gold Eagles. The facts, however, are not known to this office.”
During my interview with Bayerle, I learned he intends to use a method called cabling to raise the Republic intact but in sections. The computer-controlled technique should bring the entire ship to the surface in sections but exactly as it sits now on the ocean floor.
Investors are now being sought for this project, which is scheduled to begin during the summer of 2007. To learn more about the project or to contact Capt. Bayerle go to his Web site at http://www.rms-republic.com/