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Copyright © 1987 U.P.I.

United Press International

June 22, 1987, Monday, PM cycle

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 462 words

HEADLINE: Salvagers hunt for sunken treasure


    Treasure hunters off Nantucket today began round-the-clock diving operations they hope will yield some 5 tons of gold -- worth up to $1.6 billion -- believed on board the sunken luxury liner R.M.S. Republic.

''We're coming to the beginning of the end of the project,'' said Martin Bayerle, 35, heading the 46-member team that arrived Saturday at the site 55 miles south of the island off Cape Cod to begin the three-month effort.

The prize is the ship's cache of gold coins valued in 1909, when the ship sank, at $3.5 million but now worth from $400 million to $1.6 billion, according to officials of the Tampa, Fla.-based investors group financing the $2 million private effort.

The treasure was believed aboard the 600-foot luxury liner when it collided with an Italian immigrant ship Jan. 23, 1909, killing six people on the two ships and sending the Republic to the bottom.

Today a 12-foot, two-person submersible vehicle was lowered from the salvage ship, Inspector, to determine the precise angle of the wreck and map the ocean floor around it, said project spokesman Michael Gerber.

A sophisticated ''saturation diving'' technique is being used, eliminating the need to decompress after deep dives. Divers will live up to three weeks at a stretch in a compression unit onboard the 280-foot Inspector, and use a four-person submersible chamber to be lowered to the wreck.

''I would expect within the next day and a half they (divers) will be inside the ship,'' Gerber said in a telephone interview from Tampa after speaking by radio with the search team.

''It's a very dangerous operation,'' said Gerber, managing director and chief financial officer for Sub-Ocean Salvors International, a group of 80 limited partners who financed the operation.

''Some people think we're rolling dice,'' he said. ''This ship is 600 feet long, lying in the dark at the bottom of the ocean. Picture a 40-story building lying on its side. We have to find a broom closet in that building.''

The ship, sailing from New York, belonged to American tycoon J.P. Morgan's White Star Line -- the same firm whose Titanic sank three years later during its maiden North Atlantic voyage from England.

''The Republic was on its way to a cruise in the Mediterranean,'' Gerber said. ''We know $3.5 million in gold coins went through New York customs. We know the gold left New York but never got to its destination.''

The gold coins were en route to Russia as aid from the French government at a time when most of the world's gold was stored in the United States.

''It won't surprise me if, when we find the gold, we'll get claims from every nation in the world, including the Russians,'' he said.

Gerber said the salvage group would lift the treasure, if found, with a crane.

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