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Copyright © 1983 The Boston Herald

The Boston Herald

November 6, 1983, Sunday


LENGTH: 727 words

HEADLINE: One man's incredible search for sunken treasure

BYLINE: By Beverly Ford

SOURCE: Boston Herald


The lure of a sunken treasure has sent a Martha's Vineyard man on a daring search that has turned into a thrilling mystery complete with spies, pirates and missing documents.

The search is for the luxury liner S.S. Republic which sank 50 miles off Nantucket in 1909, taking with it a half-billion dollars worth of booty, including fine wines, jewels and $3 ˝ million in gold coins.

The mystery, however, is not the ship's location.

Treasure hunter Martin Bayerle found the Republic's watery grave in 1981 and last year, his crew of divers recovered the ship's nameplate covers from the murky Atlantic.

In May, he will try to fully unravel the mystery through an extensive salvage operation in some of the Atlantic's most dangerous, shark infested waters.

The mystery itself is an intriguing one, centered on the Republic's 500-ton cargo of military supplies and what Bayerle calls a "blatant sanitizing job" of the ship's records, which are missing from the National Archives.

"It's a mystery cargo," said the 32-year-old Bayerle, who has been able to document only 394 tons of the 500-ton cargo during four years of intensive research. "Virtually every important piece of information on the Republic is unavailable. There are no construction details, no ship's manifest. Even though you can get a manifest for a 1700 Spanish galleon, you can't get one for the Republic."

Bayerle claims that one of his researchers reported being followed by Secret Service and Treasury agents.

"Some of it may be paranoia," said the dark haired treasure hunter, "but then again, it may be warranted when you're dealing with that kind of cash."

Bayerle suspects that secret government documents may account for the remaining 106 tons of cargo, thus the government interest in his recovery expedition. However, he does not know what the government is trying to protect in the missing documents.

To add to the mystery, the government, which routinely plotted and depth charged sunken wrecks during World War II to prevent enemy subs from using them as cover, has no record of the Republic on its anti-submarine war charts.

Bayerle believes some of the ship's records may have been destroyed by the Republic's owners, the White Star Steamship Co., the same company that owned the Titanic which sank in the North Atlantic just three years later. The motive, Bayerle believes, may have been to avoid possible litigation since the Republic, like the Titanic, was not equipped with enough lifeboats.

Adding to the Republic's enigma, Bayerle has spotted some modern-day pirates diving into the shark infested Atlantic near the ship's watery resting place.

Just recently, the U.S. District Court granted him the salvage rights to the Republic after a lengthy court battle with a Florida salvager.

Although he occasionally flies over the site to deter would-be salvagers, Bayerle has found that the ship's location 235-feet underwater to be the best protection.

"We have the ocean to protect the site," said the treasure hunter, explaining that the $2.5 million recovery operation requires much expensive equipment, including a decompression chamber and sophisticated sonar equipment.

With a 50-man crew scheduled to begin salvage operations in May, Bayerle is hoping to recover much of the ship's $500 million booty by August.

Located in a major shipping lane, the wreck is surrounded by shark-infested waters, erratic currents and temperatures that average about 45 degrees.

"It is a high risk venture, but certainly, if the risks weren't there the gains wouldn’t be there either," admits Bayerle.

Aside from the $3 ˝ million in gold coins, including $250,000 from a government payroll bound for an Atlantic battleship fleet, Bayerle said the Republic also contains hundreds of cases of wines, such as Lafitte Rothschild vintages from the 1800s that sell for thousands of dollars a bottle at auction.

In addition, the ship houses hundreds of pieces of fine dinnerware and silver utensils valued at a minimum of $5,000 a place setting.

As coordinator of the salvage operation, Bayerle stands to gain $140 million from his find.

"I love thinking about the interest on that," he marvels, turning the numbers over in his mind, "it comes out to about $110,000 a day."

While a portion of his haul may go toward opening a shipwreck museum on Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket, the remainder, Bayerle vows, will go to other shipwreck ventures - and very possibly the recovery of the Titanic.

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