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Copyright © 1987 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.
The Toronto StarJune 14, 1987, Sunday, SUNDAY SECOND EDITION
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. H5
LENGTH: 888 words
HEADLINE: Treasure hunt Canadian divers hope ship that sank in 1909 will yield a king's ransom in U.S. gold coins
BYLINE: By Tom McNiff Special to The Star
DATELINE: BOSTON, Massachusetts
BOSTON - Martin Bayerle and 20 Canadian divers are looking forward to a golden summer - literally.
The treasure hunter and his crew hope to come up with a king's ransom when they salvage the remains of the White Star liner Republic, a sister ship of the legendary Titanic.
Bayerle has had a tugboat anchored over the Republic's watery grave 50 nautical miles southeast of Nantucket Island for a month - partly for survey work, party to stake his claim.
The salvage ship Inspector is due on site Wednesday to begin what Bayerle's group hopes will be three months of work leading to the recovery of the Republic's storied cargo of gold.
The divers, employees of Sub-ocean Salvors Ltd. of Halifax, N.S. and Tampa, Fla., are veterans of Canada's offshore oil industry; some helped salvage the sunken oil drilling rig Ocean Ranger off Nova Scotia in 1983-84.
Secrets long held by sunken ships have been giving way to the technology of saturation diving and minisubmarines since the late '70s.
Treasure was salvaged from the British cruiser Duke of Edinburgh and liner Lusitania, and in 1985, the Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institute found the queen of sunken liners, the Titanic, 200 nautical miles off Newfoundland.
Now Bayerle, who is convinced the Republic's broken hulk holds five tonnes of gold in U.S. coins, believes it is his turn to cash in.
The expedition most closely resembles the 1980 salvage of a safe from the sunken Italian liner Andrea Doria, which lies six nautical miles away.
Bayerle, his crew and investors could share proceeds estimated at between $140 million and $1.6 billion if the gold is there.
For 78 years, the Republic has rested 73 metres below the ocean's surface. Divers found her bridge torn away, her 170-metre hull lying on its side strewn with fish nets, but intact.
"She was a big ship; she hit bottom awfully hard," says Bill Flowers, operations manager for Subocean. "The sea's done its bit on it; rivets are loose and plates are buckling."
The Republic wreck is a far cry from the proud queen of Britain's White Star fleet that sailed from New York Jan. 23, 1909 with a crew of 451 and 409 passengers headed for a mild Mediterranean winter.
In the next day's pre-dawn fog, Republic was fatally damaged in a collision with an off-course Italian liner, the Florida, but remained afloat long enough for all but six of its occupants to be rescued.
The rescue made nautical history: rescue ships were attracted by the world's first-ever S.O.S. radio signal and heroics abounded. But it was Bayerle's belief in the U.S. gold eagle coins, backed by his research in the archives of five nations, that helped him attract the $2 million he needs for a first class salvage job.
"Most of these investors are millionaires," says Michael Gerber, Subocean's managing director in Tampa. "What excited them was the fact they could become an integral part of this thing."
Before 50 investors bought 80 shares in a limited partnership for $25,000 each, Bayerle was hard put to put his dream operation together.
He used sonar to locate the hulk in 1981. He identified it and recovered a few artifacts in 1983. In 1985, he found a sponsor and divers' assistants in the now-defunct Wolf Sub-Ocean, Ltd., a Halifax ocean engineering firm.
In a mini-glare of publicity, Bayerle announced he would sail from Fairhaven, Mass., Aug. 26, 1985. But that same evening, the fishing boat he planned as a support ship had last-minute insurance problems and the expedition was aborted.
In the ensuing year, a legal wrangle broke out between Bayerle's Maritime Analysts Inc. and Marshalltown, Inc., a Liberia-based firm that sent divers to the Republic in the spring of 1986.
They recovered silver, wine and other artifacts with an estimated value of up to $1 million, but left without any gold.
Last July, Wolf went bankrupt as the offshore oil industry folded, and Bayerle cancelled his 1986 plans, his lawyer Dean Cycon says.
Bayerle says the Republic operation is "a risky venture" and acknowledges the gold may never be found. But he remains convinced it is there.
His key evidence is a $3.3 million discrepancy in records of 1909 gold shipments between the United States and France, which wanted to loan the gold to Russia. Bayerle says Soviet offficals told him records of the loan were likely lost in the 1917 Russian revolution.
Bayerle believes the U.S., French and British governments concealed the gold secret for military reasons, even changing nautical charts of the heavily used New York shipping lanes before World War II.
The gold's purported location in the hulk is so secret "they haven't even told me where it is," Subocean's Gerber says. Divers hope to "mine" their way down from the vessel's upward side to the gold.
First they'll use a remotely-operated submarine to probe the Republic's condition.
Even if they don't find the gold, Bayerle says, recovered artifacts could more than cover costs.
"We'll take it (the wreck) apart piece by piece and make medallions of it," Gerber says, half-jokingly. "People go to auctions and pay all kinds of crazy prices for those things (historical nautical artifacts)."
* Tom McNiff is a Star correspondent based in Boston.
GRAPHIC: photos Martin Bayerle; steamship Republic afloat