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Copyright © 1987 The Associated Press

The Associated Press

September 14, 1987, Monday, PM cycle

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 507 words

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

BYLINE: By DANA KENNEDY, Associated Press Writer


   Salvors searching for $1.6 billion in gold coins believed aboard the shipwreck of the RMS Republic off Nantucket have quietly ended their quest without finding the fabled treasure.

Members of the expedition, which began in June with great fanfare, said Sunday they still believe the gold is somewhere in the ship but are unsure whether they will return to the Republic next year to continue the search.

"We would have been happier if we'd found the gold," said Mike Gerber, a spokesman for Sub-Ocean Salvors of Tampa, Fla., which ran the expedition.

"But the more we got into ship, the more we realized what terrible shape it was in. And 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," he said in a telephone interview.

Gerber said the company ended the search early last week 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 who put up $25,000 each in the project will "at worst break even," Gerber said.

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. Christie's officials appraised their value in the hundreds of thousands of dollars but said the actual price the objects will fetch will depend on "the audience and the publicity and how the story is told," Gerber said.

The 600-foot royal mail ship 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 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 saved. Remarkably, 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 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.

"I think so," said Polackwich, 40. "Everybody who's researched it thinks so."

Gerber and Polackwich agreed 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.

Gerber said a continuation of the Republic salvage next year depends on whether the company can come up with the necessary funds.

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