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Copyright © 1983 The Associated Press

The Associated Press

September 2, 1983, Friday


LENGTH: 495 words


BYLINE: Associated Press

SOURCE: Associated Press


Two salvage companies asked a federal judge yesterday to decide which one should be allowed salvage rights to the SS Republic, which sank off Nantucket in 1909, reportedly taking with it valuables and gold coins worth a half billion dollars.

Calling this his "initial dive, so to speak in this branch of the law," Judge Walter J. Skinner took the matter under advisement in US District Court.

Letters from at least two other parties interested in conducting salvage operations have been filed with the court.

"Now that someone has found it, everybody wants it," Skinner said. "I see no great emergency, since it's been there since 1909 . . . although I suppose you want to get at it before the winter."

Attorneys for Martin G. Bayerle of Martha's Vineyard Scuba Headquarters Inc. and James A. Amplas of Northern Ocean Services, based near Orlando, Fla., presented reasons why each should be granted salvage rights.

Until Skinner rules, a temporary restraining order issued by another federal judge Tuesday continues, barring Amplas from doing salvage work on the 585-foot vessel.

Amplas filed a request with the court to begin salvage Aug. 24.

Bayerle, who has had two boats surveying the site since Aug. 1, sought the injunction, claiming he got there first.

Amplas says he has been preparing salvage operations since 1979. Bayerle claims he didn't tell anyone and the two-year statute of limitations has run out.

Richard L. Dahlen of Boston, an attorney representing Amplas, said Northern Ocean Services feels Bayerle has failed at salvage operations because they are not yet complete.

Dahlen also said Northern Ocean Services was more qualified to do the job because it had an "agreement" with a Houston-based deep sea diving contractor, Stolt-Nielson, to conduct the salvage operations.

Dean Cycon of Dennis, the Martha's Vineyard Scuba group's attorney, countered that his client's firm has not failed and is still conducting survey and reconnaissance work.

He said Amplas does not have a firm contract with Stolt-Neilson to charter its Seaway Eagle for the salvage work, noting, "It is my understanding, if we wanted to hire this boat we could."

Noting Amplas' attempts to locate the Republic in 1979 and 1980, he concluded, "In essence, these people had a bite of the apple and blew it . . . There's just no reason to let him in."

Neither Bayerle nor Amplas was called on to testify.

The Republic sank about 50 miles south-southwest of Nantucket after it collided in thick fog with the steamship Florida. Four of its 600 passengers died.

The vessel is in the same area where the Italian liner Andrea Doria sank in 1956.

Jewels, personal valuables and gold coins are known to be aboard, along with several hundred cases of fine wine.

Bayerle has estimated salvage costs between $30,000 and $50,000 a week for a total of $2 million to $3 million.

The ship was owned by the White Star Steamship Co., the same firm that owned the Titanic.

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