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Copyright © 1999 The Associated Press
The Associated Press State & Local WireJuly 9, 1999, Friday, AM cycle
LENGTH: 459 words
HEADLINE: Judge refuses diver's request to bar rival from visiting wreck
BYLINE: By JEFFREY GOLD, Associated Press Writer
DATELINE: NEWARK, N.J.
A federal judge on Friday refused to halt a diving expedition that plans to explore the wreck of the RMS Republic, a luxury liner that sank off Cape Cod 90 years ago.
The request came from a rival diver, Martin Bayerle, who discovered the wreck in 1981. He has floated a theory that it carried gold coins, now worth more than a billion dollars, bought by the Bank of France to help Russia's Czar Nicholas II fight the Bolsheviks.
The decision by U.S. District Judge John W. Bissell allows William P. Cleary to proceed with his plans to dive to the Republic this weekend with several other divers.
Bissell, however, ordered Cleary not to dispose of or sell any items recovered from the wreck, and set a July 27 hearing to address the competing claims.
Cleary, a personal injury lawyer in Hackensack who said he retrieved a porthole and pottery shards from the sunken liner last summer, is battling Bayerle for exclusive salvage rights.
Bayerle, 48, led a team that spent more than two months exploring it in 1987 and developed the czar's gold theory.
Cleary, 38, argues that Bayerle has abandoned any claims he had by not working the site for more than a decade. He said he would seek investors for a major salvage effort next year if he and his team find treasure this year.
Bayerle counters that he still has a valid claim because he has been planning a multimillion dollar expedition. He said he is close to a deal with Russia and France on splitting any proceeds and will then seek investors.
He had run a scuba operation from Martha's Vineyard, Mass., but now says he operates Internet companies in Charleston, W.Va. He declined to say where he lives.
The Republic lies under 250 feet of water in international territory, some 50 miles south of Nantucket Island, Mass.
International custom allows any admiralty court - which in the United States means a federal court - to assume jurisdiction and make decisions for the world.
In November, Bissell granted Cleary's request to "arrest" the wreck. In maritime tradition, whoever arrests a wreck has the right, with court restrictions, to dispose of it.
Although Bissell sits some 200 miles west of the wreck, he can handle the case because it was filed in Newark, even though prior decisions involving the liner were handled in federal court in Boston.
The 600-foot Republic, built in England and part of J.P. Morgan's White Star Shipping Co., sank after colliding with an Italian ship, the Florida, in fog just before dawn on Jan. 23, 1909.
Only six lives were lost, even though the Republic carried 484 passengers and nearly as many crew on its pleasure cruise to the Mediterranean. They transferred to the Florida, which was carrying 650 immigrants to New York from Europe.
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