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Copyright © 1987 The Associated Press

The Associated Press

September 13, 1987, Sunday, AM cycle

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 466 words

HEADLINE: Expedition to Sunken Ship Ends With Valuable Artifacts But No Gold

BYLINE: By DANA KENNEDY, Associated Press Writer


   A multimillion-dollar treasure hunt off the New England coast came to a quiet end after salvagers recovered an assortment of artifacts from a sunken luxury liner but failed to find a fabled cache of gold coins.

The 280-foot salvage vessel Inspector and a crew of 23 divers chugged into a Rhode Island port last week, marking the end of a three-month expedition that started with great fanfare and hope.

Treasure seekers had hoped to find $1.6 billion in gold coins aboard the RMS Republic, which sunk in 1909 off Nantucket Island.

But Mike Gerber said he and others at Sub-Ocean Salvors remain confident the gold is there.

"Our plans were not as complete as we'd hoped. In the last month, we realized we'd have to do more research. But we're still confident the gold is there," said Gerber, who is a spokesman for the Tampa, Fla.-based company.

Despite the confidence, members of the expedition said Sunday they are unsure whether they will return to the Republic next year to continue the search.

Gerber said the company ended the search because autumn currents made diving too risky. The salvors originally expected to continue the search until late September or early October but the currents changed earlier than normal, he said.

Because of the hundreds of artifacts exhumed from the ship, including dozens of cases of wine and champagne, the approximately 60 investors will "at worst break even," Gerber said.

In all, the search cost about $2.2 million.

Christie's, the London auction house, has agreed to sell the wine and other artifacts, mostly china, ashtrays, pots, pans and hand-decorated panes of glass, Gerber said.

The 600-foot RMS Republic collided in fog with an Italian vessel, the S.S. Florida, just before dawn on Jan. 23, 1909. The Republic, owned by J.P. Morgan's White Star Shipping Co., carried 484 passengers, many of them highly wealthy, and almost as many crew. The Florida held 650 immigrants bound from Europe to New York.

The Republic capsized and sank, but not before most of the passengers and crew were taken off. Remarkably, only six people died in the accident, which was the largest open-sea rescue ever, at the time.

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 finance a military build-up.

Martin Bayerle, who researched the ship for 10 years, said he believes the gold lies in 75 wooden crates somewhere in the ship.

Dr. Robert Polackwich, a wealthy Tampa cancer specialist and chairman of the salvage operation, is among those who agree with Bayerle.

Polackwich said the search was over for this year and hedged over plans to return.

"If we were to go back, we would approach it with different technology," Polackwich said.

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