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Copyright © 1987 U.P.I.

United Press International

August 16, 1987, Sunday, AM cycle

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 426 words

HEADLINE: Treasure hunters seek help from shipwreck kin


    The head of a salvage team seeking treasure aboard the sunken luxury liner RMS Republic flew Sunday to Britain to meet with relatives of crew members who survived the 1909 shipwreck.

Martin Bayerle said before departing that he hoped descendents of the crew could provide information that would help divers locate a fortune in gold believed to have gone down with the Republic.

Bayerle's team -- financed by Sub-Ocean Salvors International, a Tampa, Fla., group investing $2 million in the treasure hunt -- is seeking a 5-ton cache of gold coins worth $1.6 billion at today's prices, he said.

But the divers have been unable to pinpoint the exact location of the gold.

''One of the reasons I'm going to London is to speak with several descendants of the Republic's crew who have mentioned they have information that will assist us in our salvage effort,'' he said.

The original plans for the White Star Lines liner vanished from the Library of Congress shortly after the Republican collided with the S.S. Florida, loaded with Italian immigrants, on Jan. 23, 1909.

''We have a very good idea where it is in terms of the general location. But we're dealing with a vessel which could contain the equilivant of 20 Spanish galleons,'' Bayerle said. ''It's comparable to a 60-story luxury hotel.

Since the crew of 23 divers began round-the-clock exploration of the 580-foot Republic in late June -- from a pressurized diving bell lowered 280 feet from the salvage ship, SOSI Inspector -- little has been brought to the surface.

''We have only been recovering artifacts which have gotten in our way,'' Bayerle said, including several bottles of wine from the several thousand cases found in the first class dining salon and adjacent galley.

''We did open an 1888 Moet which was quite good. Two others had shown some salt-water intrusion. But even if 10 to 20 percent of the wines survive, we'll do well at auction,'' he said.

''But our primary emphasis has been the gold,'' he said.

Worth $3.5 million in 1909, the cache was being sent by French government to the failing Czarist Russian Empire at a time most of the world's gold was stored in the United States.

With hurricane season approaching the salvage site -- 55 miles south of Nantucket Island off Cape Cod -- Bayerle said the hunt may well have to be postponed until spring.

''But we're prepared if we don't find the gold this year to pursue it next year or however long it takes because the return would certainly outstrip the expense -- even for a five-year effort,'' he said.

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