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Treasure Hunters on a Streak Lately

July 30, 1985

Undated (AP) _ Treasure hunters have been on a streak lately, finding gold beneath the seas off Florida, Cape Cod and Delaware within the past year.

The search, however, is seldom easy or quick. Often, a fool chasing gold is soon thwarted, and more money has been made selling maps to the Lost Dutchman Mine than in looking for it.

Hope, however, springs eternal in the treasure-hunter’s heart, encouraged most recently by Mel Fisher’s find of a shipload of Spanish gold off Florida.

Fisher, owner of Treasure Salvors Inc., earlier this month announced the discovery of much of the cargo of the galleon Nuestra Senora de Atocha off Key West, and a smaller find off Florida’s Treasure Coast. A company spokesman said the two finds might be worth as much as $460 million, although Fisher himself admitted the high estimates may be ″wild.″ In January, Barry Clifford reported recovering more than $1 million worth of gold and silver from the Whidah, a pirate ship sailed under Samuel ″Black″ Bellamy that went down in 1717 off Cape Cod, Mass.

Robert Cahill, a member of the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources, said the loot was worth $4 million when the ship sank but maybe $400 million today. The state has gone to court, seeking to claim one fourth.

The wreckage of the British privateer HMS De Braak, which sank off Delaware in 1798, was reported found last July. Harvey Harrington, project director of Sub-Sal Inc., of Reno, Nev., said a ring belonging to the captain, James Drew, had been recovered, along with a few dozen Spanish and British coins.

The company said the find could be worth anywhere from $5 million to $500 million, with one-fourth going to the state.

Sub-Sal spent $75,000 on a search aided with up-to-the minute electronics, and expects to spend another $1 million to bring up the booty.

So far, Martin Bayerle has little to show for his 1981 discovery of the luxury liner Republic, which went down off Nantucket, Mass., on Jan. 23, 1909, except for some dinnerware and other artifacts.

In August, Bayerle plans to send cameras down to try to pinpoint $3 million in gold coins, purchased by France to lend to Czar Nicholas II, which the ship carried. Bayerly estimates the coins may be worth $500 million.

In October, 1983, Underwater Completion Team Inc. announced that it had found a wreck off North Carolina where the U.S. Mail steamship Central America sank in 1857. There was talk of recovering up to $70 million in gold.

So far, nothing of value has been brought up, said David Voerman, a New Bern, N.C., attorney who represents the finders, now known as Trinity Triton Corp. The company and others involved in the salvage are still waiting for a federal court hearing on their suit seeking title or a salvage award.

While Fisher’s discovery was in the headlines last week, diver John Moyer in Vineland, N.J., was showing off a bronze bell retrieved from the wreck of the Andrea Doria.

″It’s worth something in the six figures,″ Moyer said of the 150-pound, 20-inch-high bell engraved with the ship’s name and the year 1952.

The Andrea Doria, which went down July 26, 1956, after a collision, has been a frustrating find. Peter Gimbel, who spent $2 million tracking down the wreck in 1981, got good TV ratings last August when the ship’s safe was opened. But instead of $1 million in money and jewels, the safe yielded 35,000 soggy, dirty U.S. and Italian bills which, at last report, were reposing in a freezer.

Off Japan, the wreck of the Russian cruiser Admiral Nakhimov has not yet lived up to its legend.

The ship was torpedoed by the Japanese fleet in the battle of Tsushima on May 27-28, 1905. Some historians say it was carrying the treasures of Czar Nicholas II to Vladivostok, along with 20 million pounds sterling. Estimates of the treasure ranged from $2 billion to $38 billion.

In June 1984, divers brought up the first find - about 100 pieces of silver tableware. Since February, a 50-member salvage group including 20 divers aboard the Ten Oh-Maru, chartered by the Tokyo-based World Development Technology Center, has made three searches without finding the main treasure.

Ryoichi Sasagawa, the eccentric 86-year-old multimillionare who finances the center, claimed in 1980 that divers had recovered 16 platinum ingots of 70 percent purity, worth about $2.4 million. Later, the company disclosed that the ingots were some other metal - it wouldn’t say what.

When he announced the find, Sasagawa offered to exchange the ship’s treasure for the Kurile Islands off northern Japan, which the Soviets seized at the end of World War II.

The Soviets claimed ownership of the ship and all its treasures that same year, but lately have had little to say on the issue. Masatoshi Yuwahashi, a spokesman for Sasagawa, said the offer to swap for the Kuriles still stands.

On land, dreamers still search for the Lost Dutchman in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains, although federal law would make discovery worthless to the finder.

In 1964, Congress put a number of areas under federal wilderness protection and gave prospectors 20 years to file claims.

The Lost Dutchman gets its name from the legend of a German immigrant in the late 19th Century who would wander off into the mountains and return occasionally with gold. He never revealed the location of the mine he said he had found in the mountains.

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