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Copyright © 1987 The Associated Press

The Associated Press

June 29, 1987, Monday, AM cycle

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 585 words

HEADLINE: Divers Hope To Recover More Than $1.6 Billion In Gold Coins From Shipwreck

BYLINE: By DANA KENNEDY, Associated Press Writer


   When the RMS Republic struck another ship and sank off Nantucket Island in 1909, the 450 millionaires who were among those saved left behind a treasure trove that some say is now worth more than $1.6 billion.

Sometime this week, divers hope to begin recovering the jewelry, gold coins and other valuables, said salvor Robert Polackwich of Tampa, Fla.

"It's potentially one of the greatest treasures ever recovered," he said.

By comparison, the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha, which was discovered off the Florida Keys by Mel Fisher, has yielded an estimated $250 million worth of treasure and is expected to give up $100 million more.

The salvage of the 600-foot-long Republic began last week with preliminary work at the ship's resting place 280 feet below the Atlantic Ocean's surface and 55 miles southeast of Nantucket.

The Republic, described as "the grand hotel of the seas," was owned by tycoon J.P. Morgan's White Star Shipping Lines, which also owned the ill-fated Titanic, which sank three years later after hitting an iceberg.

Expedition organizers hope to find out whether they were correct in figuring out where the gold was stored aboard the Republic, which they say is in excellent condition after 78 years on the ocean floor.

The Republic went down at 5 a.m. on Jan. 23, 1909. It was 16 hours out on a two-month Mediterranean cruise when it collided with the Italian ship Florida, carrying 850 immigrants to New York. Six people died _ two on the Republic and four on the Florida _ but more than 2,000 were saved by 83 lifeboats in what Polackwich said was history's largest open-sea rescue.

Aboard the Republic were prominent and monied names of the era, such as a prince of India, the archbishop of Montreal and Shell Oil founder James Mellon, Polackwich said.

Its cargo included millions of dollars in gold coins bought by the Bank of France to lend to Czar Nicholas II of Russia to finance a military buildup. The American eagle gold coins were worth $3 million then, but would be worth more than $1.6 billion today, according to some estimates, he said.

Martin Bayerly [sic, should be Bayerle], a New York diver who found the Republic in 1985 after 10 years of research, said at the time that the fortune could be worth as much as $1.6 billion, but is probably closer to $500 million.

Much of Morgan's book collection, including rare first editions, is aboard, and book restoration experts believe it may be intact, Polackwich said.

Bayerly believes the gold is somewhere in two strongrooms on the second deck. Aided by a naval architect and the company that built the Republic, he carefully reconstructed blueprints, but ran out of money a few years ago and had been considering abandoning his dream of salvaging the Republic.

Polackwich, a cancer specialist who founded Sub Ocean Salvors International, said he and Bayerly joined forces and raised from investors the $2 million needed for the expedition.

"It's such a fascinating piece of history," Polackwich said. "No matter what walk of life you're from, there's a little bit of the treasure hunter in all of us."

The salvors hope to keep most of what they recover from the Republic by the time the expedition ends in August, Polackwich said.

Unlike many shipwrecks in shallow water, this one occurred in international waters and is free from local laws, he said. Salvors are awarded 90 percent to 100 percent of what they recover from a wreck if the owners of the lost property are not actively pursuing it themselves.

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