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Copyright © 1999 The Baltimore Sun Company


August 5, 1999, Thursday, CARROLL


LENGTH: 483 words

HEADLINE: Salvage hunters compete for ship; Cargo of gold coins believed at stake in court battle; Cape Cod shipwreck; Lawyer tries to wrest recovery rights from man who discovered site

BYLINE: Jeffrey Gold

SOURCE: Associated Press

   NEWARK, N.J. -- For more than 90 years, the RMS Republic has stood under 250 feet of calm water off Cape Cod.

But above ground, a stormy battle has developed over who has the right to salvage the wreck -- and a possible cache of coins that could be worth more than $1 billion.

A court fight pits William P. Cleary, a personal injury lawyer in Hackensack, against Martin Bayerle, who discovered the ship in 1981 in international waters off Massachusetts.

Both men have ventured into the ocean's deep waters to examine the wreck. But Cleary says it should be off-limits to Bayerle because he has not worked on the site for more than a decade, after leading a team that explored it for two months.

Bayerle insists he is negotiating with the owners of the cargos aboard the Republic including the Russian government, on dividing the spoils, and will seek investors for a multimillion dollar retrieval project.

Cleary said he is planning a "very careful archeological" project to map the site by sonar, and then carefully remove artifacts. "We want to recover and restore all the precious antiquities," Cleary said.

Bayerle's response: "If the gold is not on board, Mr. Cleary can go get all the trinkets he wants."

The 600-foot Republic, built in England and part of J.P. Morgan's White Star Shipping Co., sank after colliding in fog with an Italian ship, the Florida, on Jan. 23, 1909, 50 miles south of Nantucket Island, Mass.

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.

Bayerle has developed the theory that the Republic might have been carrying gold coins bought by the Bank of France to help Russia's Czar Nicholas II fight the Bolsheviks.

Bayerle, 48, who had run a scuba operation from Martha's Vineyard, Mass., said he operates Internet companies in Charleston, W.Va., but has continued plans for a major expedition.

In November, U.S. District Judge John W. 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.

In further proceedings, however, the judge refused Cleary's bid for an injunction barring Bayerle from conducting salvage operations within a mile of the latitude and longitude specified by Cleary.

Bayerle said that map location is seven miles from the actual resting place of the Republic, and that he has no interest in Cleary's site.

So the judge ruled there is no conflict for the moment.

Cleary promised to return with definitive coordinates after further exploration this summer and again try and keep Bayerle away.

Cleary said he would seek investors for a major salvage effort next year if he and his team find treasure this year.

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