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Copyright © 1985 U.P.I.

United Press International

August 25, 1985, Sunday, AM cycle

ADVANCED-DATE: August 24, 1985, Saturday, AM cycle

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 757 words

HEADLINE: Diving expedition seeks fortune in gold



    A team of deep sea divers will begin exploring a sunken luxury liner this week, hoping to find a fortune in gold coins and a link to pre-World War I international intrigue.

Martin Bayerle, the head of the company that holds salvage rights to the 15,000-ton SS Republic, said he will send two robot-operated vehicles 260 feet deep to the wreck site off Nantucket Island on Monday.

The exploration climaxes 10 years of research on the Republic, which sank in 1909 after a collision with the Florida, an Italian-registered ship carrying 850 immigrants from Naples to New York.

''This is the type of adventure very few people can instigate,'' Bayerle said.

Equipped with underwater cameras and lights, divers hope their 10-day survey will ''give us a better idea of the hazards to expect'' during the actual salvage next summer and reveal the location of a cache of American gold eagle coins worth as much as $1.6 billion, Bayerle said.

''We will look for the most economical and safest way to extract the gold,'' Bayerle said. ''This involves entering the wreck to determine the amount of debris that needs to be removed and deciding where we will cut into the hull to get to the ship's baggage rooms where I believe the gold is located.''

Bayerle, 34, is financing the venture from profit from a mail order diving business. He said he has been intrigued by rumors and stories surrounding the Republic for a decade. He moved from New York to Martha's Vineyard, located the wreck in 1981 and secured the salvage rights in 1983 after dives provided positive proof of its identity.

Bayerle admits he is partly motivated by the prospect of retrieving a fortune but also by the challenge of unravelling a segment of history.

The Republic, owned by the White Star Line, was headed for a two-month cruise of the Mediterranean with 911 passengers and crew. Six people were killed in the collision and the rest were saved with 83 lifeboats in one of the largest and most successful open sea rescues.

Bayerle said he concluded from researching the cargo that the French government had purchased $3 million worth of American gold eagle coins as part of a loan to the regime of Russian Czar Nicholas II to improve his country's military and railroads.

He said the gold was purchased from the National City Bank of New York, now Citibank, and the brokerage house of Goldman, Sachs & Co. The bank was controlled then by financier J.P. Morgan, who also owned the White Star Line, Bayerle said.

Bayerle said his research included studying archives in England, the United States, France, Canada and Northern Ireland. He has studied government import-export records, documents from banks, insurance companies, the shipping line, newspapers and other publications of the period.

Bayerle said officials denied there was gold aboard the ship at the time of the disaster and documents were missing from the Republic, including its blueprints and cargo manifest.

''Since this money was intended for Russia, revelations of its loss would have had enormous implications in pre-World War I Europe,'' Bayerle said. ''Russia was in a very shaky financial situation and needed this money. It would not have been politically wise to acknowledge the loss.''

Previous researchers, unable to obtain official confirmation of even the existence of the coins, dismissed the cargo as rumor.

But Bayerle said he ''went one step further.''

In an extensive analysis of the New York financial markets, he tracked down the gold transaction through Journal of Commerce reports. ''Once we isolated the transaction we looked into the motivation,'' Bayerle said, and the reason for the denials of the gold's existence became apparent.''

''When the salvage is completed, we will have filled in a missing piece of history about the maneuvers of governments and private citizens such as J.P. Morgan'' on the eve of World War I.

Bayerle places the value of the gold at between $172 million and $1.6 billion.

If he recovers the fortune, Bayerle said, ''I'll live a life to which I'm unaccustomed.''

He believes the Republic's crew could not have removed the gold because the engine boilers were shut down after the collision to prevent an explosion.

''Without steam to operate her winches, the crew was incapable of removing the several tons of gold,'' Bayerle said.

''Also, the first rescue vessels arrived at the site 12 hours after the collision, Bayerle said. ''By then, the Republic had already settled some 40 feet by her stern, and no salvage was possible.''

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