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Copyright © 1987 The New York Times Company
The New York TimesJuly 19, 1987, Sunday, Late City Final Edition
SECTION: Section 1; Part 2, Page 31, Column 3; National Desk
LENGTH: 614 words
HEADLINE: Trinkets but Still No Gold at Wreck
BYLINE: By SETH S. KING, Special to the New York Times
ABOARD THE SOSI INSPECTOR, off Massachusetts, July 15 - The cluster of plastic milk crates the divers sent up this afternoon from the wreck of the Republic contained a case of beer bottles from the second-class dining pantry, an ornate window from the first-class smoking salon and a cut-glass vase, intact and unmarked.
There was none of the real treasure - more than $3 million worth of American eagle gold coins - that leaders of Sub-Ocean Salvors Inc. believe was aboard the 600-foot luxury liner when she was rammed by another vessel on Jan. 23, 1909, causing her to sink the next day in 260 feet of water 55 miles south of Nantucket Island.
After two weeks of diving, the treasure hunt's directors were still not expecting to reach the the Republic's No. 5 hold until the divers clear out what they say is a jungle of debris choking the pantry directly above the hold.
If their several years of research and their assumptions based on it are valid, they should find up to 75 wooden boxes in that hold, each of which, they are convinced, held $40,000 in gold coins, which today would be worth many times that amount.
Prepared to Be Wrong
Martin Bayerle, a 36-year-old Brooklyn diving expert who is vice president of the company and director of operations for this search, said several years of his own detective work had convinced him that the No. 5 hold was the logical place for storing the gold.
''That's our primary target,'' he said today as he watched the deck crew retrieving the items sent up by two divers working below.
''But if we are wrong,'' he continued, ''we have secondary and tertiary targets where the gold might be.''
There are no official records showing that the gold, which Mr. Bayerle believes France was sending to the Czar of Russia, was actually being carried on the Republic. But he said he was convinced from his study of shipping records and United States Treasury reports that the gold was placed aboard the ship secretly as a security measure.
Teams of divers, most of whom have spent hundreds of hours working on offshore drilling rigs at depths as great or greater than these, are probing the wreck around the clock. The salvors should be able to enter the No. 5 hold in about 10 days, Mr. Bayerle said. $20,000 a Day Cost The salvage effort is costing investors about $20,000 a day, he said.
The Inspector, once used to support divers working on offshore oil-drilling rigs, is crammed with underwater surveillance equipment. She also carries a huge pressurized chamber in which the diving crews live for three weeks at a time under 180-foot depth pressures. They leave the chamber only to descend to the Republic and work in the wreckage.
Most of the Republic is resting on the bottom at a sharp angle. The forward and rear sections appear to be intact, though the center sections were either crushed or twisted by the impact of hitting bottom.
His divers, Mr. Bayerle said, gained easy access to the pantry. But they cannot cut into the No. 5 hold until the mass of debris is removed from the area above it.
The salvors believe that there were also five or six large safes aboard. The collision occurred at 5:30 A.M. Most of the 900 passengers were taken off immediately without having time to bring any of their belongings with them. There were only a few fatalities among passengers and crew, in part because the Republic's radio operator was able to summon rescuers in the hours between the collision and sinking.
From the insurance claims filed later, Mr. Bayerle believes that many passengers were wealthy and would have been carrying with them thousands of dollars worth of jewelry as well as large sums of money.
GRAPHIC: Photo of divers are searching for gold that may have been lost in 1909. (NYT)