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Copyright © 2001 Globe Newspaper Company

The Boston Globe

April 4, 2001, Wednesday, City Edition


LENGTH: 371 words

HEADLINE: Mass. diver seeks sole rights to shipwreck

BYLINE: By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff



early a century after the luxury liner RMS Republic collided with an Italian ship and sank some 50 miles off Nantucket, a quest for sunken treasure has fueled an ongoing legal battle over salvage rights to the shipwreck.

Martin Bayerle, who discovered the wreck in 1981 and has salvaged hundreds of artifacts from the ship during a hunt for $1.6 billion in gold coins he is convinced are on board, urged a federal judge in Boston yesterday to bar a New Jersey salvager from the site.

Bayerle, who lives in New York and is president of Martha's Vineyard Scuba Headquarters, said William Cleary found a ship's porthole while diving in an area 6 miles from Bayerle's site in 1998 and is falsely claiming that he's located the Republic.

''The wreck of the Republic can only lie in one place,'' said New Jersey lawyer Timothy D. Barrow, who represents Bayerle. He said the federal court in Massachusetts should decide the case since the Republic is in waters closer to Massachusetts.

But a federal judge in New Jersey has allowed Cleary to salvage the wreck he says he located three years ago. Cleary has argued that Bayerle lost his claim to the Republic by failing to conduct salvage operations for 12 years.

US District Judge Walter Skinner, who authorized Bayerle to salvage the shipwrecked Republic in 1983, is considering the request to bar Cleary from that site.

The 585-foot Rebublic, which like the Titanic was owned by White Star Line, sank in January 1909 after colliding with the SS Florida, killing six people.

After years of research, Bayerle said he discovered that the Republic may have been carrying 5 tons of American Gold Eagle coins that the French government had bought to support Russia's czar against a revolt. It's also been rumored that the Republic was carrying a Navy payroll on its way to the Great White Fleet in Gibraltar.

Prosecutors from the US Department of Justice told Skinner that if government property is recovered from the Republic, they'll seek to claim it.

Bayerle said he recently received information that may lead divers to the spot on the sunken Republic where the gold was stored. He said he'll resume salvage efforts this summer.

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