Divers Find Champagne, Dishes In Shipwreck, But No Gold Yet
Jul. 16, 1987
ABOARD THE SOSI INSPECTOR (AP) _ Divers searching a 1909 shipwreck have come up with trappings of the many millionaires who fled the sinking vessel, and they say they are closing in on an area where a fortune in gold might be found.
The search is taking place 55 miles south of Nantucket Island, where the RMS Republic, a 600-foot long ''floating hotel,'' collided with another ship in the foggy early morning hours of Jan. 23, 1909.
Salvagers say their research has led them to believe there may be as much as $1.2 billion in valuables that could be recovered.
But after two weeks of diving, the elaborate and dangerous deep-sea salvage, which costs about $25,000 per day, has yielded only unopened bottles of champagne, kelp-encrusted steamer pots, broken plates and a rolled-up pair of ladies' black stockings.
The ship was owned by J.P. Morgan's White Star shipping lines, the owner of the Titanic. More than 400 millionaires, many of whom were aboard the Titanic when it sank in 1912, were among 900 passengers on the Republic who were ferried to safety in the largest open-ocean rescue to date. Six people died.
The ship is rumored to have carried $3 million in American gold eagle coins, destined for Czar Nicholas II of Russia, who was bankrupt and threatened by the Germans and rising Bolsheviks.
The salvage organizers, through what amounts to painstaking dectective work, had concluded that gold was aboard, near the second-class baggage section, but admit there is no way they can be sure.
Several of the salvors said they have been fascinated by the wreck of the Republic since they were children. The search is fueled mostly by their obsession with the wreck and their exhaustive research into the ship's history.
''It's a wreck diver's dream,'' said Bill Flower, 28, the salvage operation manager, who first read about the wreck of the Republic when he was 9 years old.
The salvage expedition also has been the dream of Martin Bayerle, 36, who has devoted the past 15 years to studying the wreck.
Bayerle said he believes there may have been an ''international coverup'' stemming from the rumored gold aboard the ship . He said all blueprints of the ship have disappeared and all records relating to the purchase of gold coins by a group of French banks are missing.
''The motivation behind the loan to the Czar was similar to what's going on in Central America today,'' said Bayerle, who believes that if he finds the gold, he will also have proof that history might have been different had the gold reached Russia.
The salvors aboard the SOSI Inspector, owned by Sub Ocean Salvors International, are using surplus offshore oil production equipment that resembles something out of a James Bond movie.
At most risk are the eight saturation divers, who are sifting through the wreckage of the semi-upright Republic at a depth of 280 feet. They are lowered down to the wreck in a small diving bell.
One diver leaves the bell for four hours at a time, while he is tethered to the bell and the Inspector by what is called ''the umbilical.'' The umbilical is a line that provides the divers with a mixture of 91 percent helium and 9 percent oxygen.
Should the umbilical be twisted or damaged during the dive, the diver carries a ''bail-out bottle,'' which allows him only five minutes to return to the bell.
When not diving, divers live for month-long periods in a saturation chamber, aboard the Inspector, that is only 22 feet long and 7 feet in diameter. There, where the air is 93 percent helium and 7 percent oxygen, their bodies get accustomed to the rigors of deep-sea diving.
''It's quite different than anything else we have done,'' said diver Ian Rodd, 30, peering through a small window of the chamber and talking by a radio. ''It's kind of neat going over something that's been there 70 or 80 years.''
Though all aboard the Inspector are confident the divers will find the gold, Bayerle said they are prepared if the estimated 75 hardwood boxes believed containing the gold are not there.
Bayerle said organizers can fund the salvage until October and that the artifacts recovered are in demand by collectors.
''I think the project will make money, even if we don't bring up a nickel in gold,'' he said.