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Copyright © 1987 The Associated Press

The Associated Press

October 30, 1987, Friday, AM cycle

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 690 words

HEADLINE: Treasure Hunters Clash in Search for $1.6 Billion in Gold Coins

BYLINE: By DANA KENNEDY, Associated Press Writer


   The search for an estimated $1.6 billion in gold coins off Nantucket has become a race between two former partners _ one who left the site at summer's end, the other who recently returned.

The latest search is being conducted by Wayne Childs, 33, of Lexington, who said this week that he has long sought-after diagrams showing where the gold was hidden aboard the wreck of the Republic. He has not yet retrieved the treasure.

His 135-foot vessel, the Hustler, is anchored at the wreck site 51 miles south of Nantucket.

"I go about it in a different way," said Childs. "I don't open myself up to ridicule by saying I'm going to get it, I'm going to get it."

Childs formerly worked for Martin Bayerle, 36, who undertook a $2 million expedition to the wreck for three months last summer. Bayerle recently hired a plane to survey the wreck site and the Hustler's activity.

Bayerle, who researched the shipwreck for more than 10 years and claims he discovered it in 1981, contends Childs is using information about the wreck site and the location of the gold publicized in news reports during Bayerle's expedition.

Bayerle said his attorney filed papers in U.S. District Court in Boston last week asking that anything retrieved by Childs' group be placed under the court's jurisdiction.

"We maintain that they are conducting an unauthorized pirate activity," said Bayerle, who has researched the ship for more than 10 years and calls himself the foremost expert on the wreck.

Childs, however, said Bayerle approached him for information about the wreck in the early 1980s. Childs said he has organized dives at the site three previous times and plans to remain there throughout the winter.

Childs also disputed Bayerle's claim that the gold coins, if found, will be worth over a billion dollars. Childs estimated their worth at about $70 million.

Behind Bayerle's widely publicized hunt last summer, a joint venture with Sub Ocean Salvors of Tampa, Fla., is a tangled legal dispute with other salvage operators.

At issue are highly technical arguments based on the fact that the Republic lies 1.5 miles into international waters and is free from court jurisdiction, while the artifacts brought ashore are subject to restrictions.

Documents filed in U.S. District Court in Boston show that Bayerle's firm, Martha's Vineyard Scuba, has been in litigation over the shipwreck with Childs and a New York salvage firm.

Bayerle said his firm petitioned in U.S. District Court for salvage rights and was granted them in 1982. Bayerle said salvors may establish salvage rights by actively working a wreck. He said the court must determine if the search is "diligent and prudent" before they award salvage rights.

In 1986, the New York salvage firm, Marshallton, Inc., alleged that Bayerle's group was not proceeding in a "diligent" manner, Bayerle said. Marshallton salvors were given salvage rights as a result of the allegations they made about Bayerle's expedition, he said.

Attorneys for Marshallton and Bayerle are awaiting a decision from the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston over the rights to artifacts brought up by Marshallton divers, according to Marshallton attorney Leo Kailas of New York.

The Republic, a 600-foot royal mail ship, collided in fog with an Italian vessel, the Florida, just before dawn on Jan. 23, 1909. The Republic was owned by J.P. Morgan's White Star Shipping Co. and carried 484 passengers, many of them millionaires, bound for the Mediterranean. The Florida held 650 immigrants bound from Europe to New York.

The Republic capsized and sank but most of the passengers and crew were saved. Only six people died in the accident, which resulted in the largest open-sea rescue to date.

The Republic's cargo is believed to have included millions of dollars in gold coins bought by the Bank of France to lend to Czar Nicholas II of Russia to bolster his fight against the Bolsheviks.

Bayerle has said he believes the gold lies in 75 crates aboard the wreck. His group abandoned the site in September because ocean currents during the fall and winter months make salvaging difficult.

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