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Searching for billions: Captain seeks OK to salvage sunken liner’s treasure
By Laurel J. Sweet
Thursday, July 7, 2005 - Updated: 08:23 AM EST

Treasure hunter Martin Bayerle's ship is never going to come in.
     So Tuesday, the good captain is setting sail to find her - 50 miles south of Nantucket and 270 feet down in some of the cruelest, shark-infested waters of the North Atlantic.
     There, the luxury liner RMS Republic has rested in pieces for nearly a century, her memory kept alive by the legend that on Jan. 23, 1909, she took to the bottom of the sea a cache of gold and silver that today could be worth conservatively more than $1.6 billion, though some estimates put it as high as $10 billion.
     ``The wreck has been shrouded in mystery from the day she sank,'' said Bayerle, 54, who tomorrow morningFri will go before U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner in Boston and ask for the world-exclusive salvage rights to what was once the flagship of the White Star Line's Boston-European service.
     Even though six people died, ``there was no official public inquest. You can't even find construction plans for this vessel,'' said Bayerle, president of Martha's Vineyard Scuba Headquarters, Inc. Bayerle first located the Republic in 1981. The steamship foundered after a collision with the Italian liner SS Florida in dense fog while en route from New York to the Mediterranean.
     The Florida stayed afloat and more than 1,500 passengers and crew were saved - the largest open-sea rescue in history.
     For the past 30years, the Republic has been Bayerle's 15,378-ton siren - in particular, its rumored treasure consisting of U.S. Navy payroll, newly minted American Gold Eagle coins bound for Czar Nicholas II of Russia, 15 tons of gold bars and several more tons of silver.
     But if Bayerle strikes gold, his attorney, Timothy D. Barrow, said it could be ``the greatest treasure recovery of all time.''
     Accordingly, Barrow is also asking Gertner to issue a restraining order of sorts that would prevent both competitors and governments from meddling with Bayerle's recovery efforts through 2008.
     Though they declined to pinpoint exactly where in the 570-foot-long steamship the treasure is believed to be stockpiled, Bayerle and Barrow said the search area has been narrowed down to ``the most heavily damaged section of the wreck.''

The most dangerous, too,comparable to foraging inside a collapsed 80-story skyscraper. Think New York's Chrysler Building reduced to a pancake.
     ``And we'll be looking in the basement,'' Bayerle said.
     Next week's expedition, a 17-hour trip from Long Island, is a dry run to set the stage for next summer's go-for-the-gold salvage operation. Bayerle said it could take up to four years just to find the treasure, let alone raise it to the surface.
     And however the final chapter of this enduring mystery ends, Bayerle said he won't be going off the deep end.
     ``The wreck has sort of dragged me along with it,'' Bayerle said. ``If there's nothing there, then I'll be satisfied there's nothing there, but it will have been an interesting ride.''

American Gold Eagle coins valued at $3 million in 1909. (Herald File Photo)
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