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Judge grants treasure hunter right to salvage sunken ship

BOSTON --Martin Bayerle sets sail from Long Island next week to resume his quest for sunken treasure, driven by rumors that a cache of gold coins was aboard the RMS Republic luxury liner when it sank in the North Atlantic nearly a century ago.

When he returns to the Republic's wreckage this time, Bayerle will have a court order that gives him the exclusive rights to salvage the ship through 2008.

On Friday, a federal judge in Boston issued a preliminary injunction that bars anyone from interfering with Bayerle's efforts to recover a cache of gold from the wreckage of the RMS Republic, which sank 50 miles south of Nantucket in January 1909.

The federal government claims U.S. courts don't have the jurisdiction to award exclusive salvage rights to the Republic because the wreck is in international waters. Efforts to reach a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan weren't immediately successful Friday evening.

In her three-page ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner didn't specify why she granted exclusive salvage rights to Bayerle.

Bayerle argued that he is entitled to salvage the wreck free of interference because he found the ship in 1981, roughly 250 feet under water, and already has invested more than $2 million and hundreds of man hours in the dangerous salvage operation.

"It's high risk, high reward," he said Friday.

Bayerle has found hundreds of artifacts in the wreckage, but he is still looking for the elusive coins. Bayerle said there are persistent rumors that the ship was carrying a five-ton shipment of gold coins that would have had a face value of $3 million in 1909.

"That has never been proven, but there is a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest the cargo is on board the wreck," said Bayerle's attorney, Timothy Barrow.

Barrow said the coins, if they are there, could be worth at least $400 million, or more than $1.6 billion if they are in good condition.

Bayerle, formerly of Martha's Vineyard, is scheduled to leave New York on Tuesday to resume his salvage operation. However, he acknowledges it could be several years before he reaches the part of the wreck where he believes the coins are located.

"We have identified the target areas," he said. "Now we need to get to the target areas."

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