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Copyright 1986 Times Newspapers Limited
The Times (London)July 20 1986, Sunday
SECTION: Issue 8450.
LENGTH: 593 words
HEADLINE: Gold and wine hoard is target of new dive / White Star Line passenger ship salvage
BYLINE: ASKOLD KRUSHELNYCKY
Another ill-fated liner from the same shipping company as the Titanic, the White Star Line, is about to become the focus of a much less sentimental diving venture which should prove a dollars 400m treasure chest and a delight for connoisseurs of old wines.
The SS Republic was the largest ship ever to have gone down when it sank 50 miles off the American coast on January 24, 1909, three years before the Titanic. But unlike the Titanic, the Republic sank in only 250 ft of water, with the loss of four of its 600 passengers. The depth is relatively accessible for modern diving techniques. Next month, an American, Martin Bayerle, who located the wreck, will begin salvaging its contents. One of his objectives will be to recover a hoard of gold coins and the contents of the Republic's wine cellar.
It was stocked with exquisite wines which now, more than three quarters of a century later, could be worth a fortune. Bayerle says hundreds of cases remain intact.
Michael Broadbent, wine expert at Christie's, the London auctioneers, said: 'The question is whether or not sea water will have affected the wine. Wines breathe through their corks and even lead seals might not have prevented some of the wine being tainted. '
The liner would have carried mainly classic French wines such as Bordeaux and Burgundy, German wines, which were popular before the first world war, sherry and port. A bottle of Chateau-Lafite, 1899, could expect to fetch pounds 200, a Sauterne from the 1870s pounds 150, a champagne of 1874 vintage pounds 500. Broadbent said that wines salvaged from 17th and 18th century wrecks had proved drinkable and brought high prices.
The 15,000-ton Republic collided about 50 miles off Nantucket Island with an immigrant ship, the Florida, hoiurs after leaving New York. The disaster was the first time that radio was used in a rescue at sea. Vessels rushed to the scene and 1,500 passengers and crew from both ships were picked up. The Republic was taken in tow by one of the other ships but south of Martha's Vineyard island she sank.
She remained undisturbed until 1983 when Bayerle mounted an expedition to find the wreck. Bayerle, the owner of two New York sports shops and a diving school, heard about the Republic from other divers. He said: 'Apart from the wines, jewellery, the ship's plates, silverware and other artefacts, the Republic was also carrying a cargo of gold worth dollars 3m in 1909. The gold had been purchased by the Russian government to refinance its loans from the British and French.
'But the American bank that they bought it from did not have the amount in gold bars so it was shipped out as coins called gold eagles. These are in mint condition and at today's prices are worth about dollars 40m; but with the interest from coin collectors, the gold should be worth 10 times that amount. '
In all, Bayerle hopes to make around dollars 500m from the salvage of the Republic's contents. He has employed a team of 20 divers who will live in and work from a base moored on the seabed. The local conditions allow only about 45 days' diving every year - in July and August - and Bayerle estimates he will need three years to complete the salvage.
He said the wreck has broken in two with the stern sitting upright and the rest of the ship lying on its starboard side. He used plans supplied by Harland & Wolff of Belfast, which built the Republic in 1902, to help him organise the salvage expedition which he estimates will cost up to dollars 30,000 a day during diving.