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Copyright © 1985 U.P.I.

United Press International

August 27, 1985, Tuesday, PM cycle

SECTION: Domestic News

LENGTH: 458 words


    After 10 years of research, deep-sea divers are prepared to scout out a sunken luxury liner that went down in the risky sea lanes off the New England coast 76 years ago with a load of gold coins worth possibly $1.6 billion.

''This is the type of adventure very few people can instigate,'' said Martin Bayerle, the head of the company that holds salvage rights to the 15,000-ton SS Republic, which sank off Nantucket Island in 1909.

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

Bayerle, 34, hoped to finish loading equipment and cast off later today.

A planned Monday departure was delayed while crew members loaded the boat and cleared Canadian equipment through U.S. Customs.

He said it would probably take eight to 10 hours to steam to the site, about 50 miles south of Nantucket in a busy commercial route about 7 miles from the spot where the liner Andrea Doria sank in 1956.

Bayerle said he will send two robot-operated vehicles 260 feet down to the wreck site and use underwater cameras for a 10-day survey that will ''give us a better idea of the hazards to expect'' during the actual salvage next summer.

It is also hoped the work will reveal the location of a cache of American gold eagle coins worth as much as $1.6 billion, Bayerle said.

Bayerle said he concluded from researching the cargo that the French government had purchased what was then $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.

Bayerle, who said the current value of the coins depended upon the type of gold eagle aboard the ship. He said the minimum value would be $120,964,560 if the cache contains ''1908 double eagles'' and the maximum value would be $1,663,262,700 if the cache contains ''1908 half eagles.''

He said he expects the find to be ''at least worth $172 million.''

''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, who is financing the venture from profit from a mail-order diving business, said expenses to date have reached around $400,000.

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 died in the collision and the rest were saved with 83 lifeboats in one of the largest and most successful open-sea rescues in history.

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