Odyssey Marine Explorations Inc dicen haber descubierto naufragio con gran tesoro
Por MITCH STACY,  periodista de Associated Press -  Tampa , Florida.

Exploradores creen que encontraron los restos hundidos de un vapor a ruedas de 1860 que podría resultar en la carga más valiosa recuperada de un barco: miles de monedas de oro con un valor estimado en u$s180 millones.

El SS Republic llevaba 59 pasajeros y 20.000 monedas de oro de 20 dólares desde Nueva York a Nueva Orleans cuando se hundió por un huracán fuera de Savannah, Georgia, el 25 de Octubre de 1865, de acuerdo a los periódicos y otros registros históricos de la época.

Cuadro del Tennessee, que fué luego nombrado "SS Republic".

 Todos los pasajeros abordaron los botes salvavidas y se salvaron, pero las monedas, que estaban destinadas a pagar la reconstruccion del Sur luego de la Guerra Civil -  se fueron al fondo del Atlántico junto con el Republic. Un experto ha estimado que el valor de ellas hoy en día es entre 120 y 180 millones de dólares.

Luego de buscar los restos del naufragio por 12 años. Gregg Stemm y John Morris de Odyssey dijeron el Sábado que lo hallaron el mes pasado en 1700 pies de agua unas 100 millas al sudeste de Savannah. El mes entrante comenzará la documentacion y excavacion del sitio usando equipo robótico remoto. Stemm dijo que la cía basada en Tampa, Florida, compró un barco de 250 pies de eslora y un "vehiculo especial operado remotamente" para llevar a  cabo el proyecto.

Debido a que el pecio está tan adentro de aguas internacionales, la cía. no necesita un permiso para comenzar los trabajos en el sitio, pero se le ha dado un permiso federal para que sea ilegal que otros lo pidan. La gente de Odyssey peinó un área de 1.500 millas cuadradas de océano usando ROVs, sonar y magnetómetros antes de encontrar los restos que creen es el Republic, un vapor a ruedas laterales que una vez estuvo en la flota de la Union

Foto submarina de la rueda lateral del barco.

Odyssey es una Cía. cuyas acciones cotizan en bolsa, fundada a mediados de los 90 con un número de proyectos de busqueda de barcos hundidos en varios estados de concrecion. Stemm y Morris sólo han hecho una excavacion de gran profundidad, un barco español en Dry Tortugas que les dió unos 5 millones de dólares en oro y miles de artefactos. Hace poco tiempo la Cía. hizo los titulares de muchos diarios en el mundo cuando entro en sociedad con el gobierno británico para hacer el salvataje del HMS Sussex, que se hundió cerca de Gibraltar.

La cía comenzará el trabajo en el Republic antes que en el Sussex.El tesoro más valioso encontrado hasta ahora fué el del SS Central America, que s ehundió durante un huracán fuera d ela Costa de Carolina del Norte en 1857 llevando una gran cantidad de oro de California. Este pecio dió unos 100 millones de dólares en 1987, incluyendo la pepita de oro mas grande de la Fiebre del oro de California, un "ladrillo" de 10 pulgadas de largo que se vendió en u$s 7 millones.

La excavacion del Republic tardará varios meses y el costo para Odyssey estará entre 1 a 3 millones de dólares.

Nota del webmaster: Aunque damos estas noticias, deseamos dejar en claro que no comulgamos para nada con las Cías. de cazadores de tesoros, ya que aunque puede haber alguna honrada, hasta ahora no lo han demostrado y se han dedicado sólo al saqueo de los tesoros que puedan haber en cada sitio, sin permitir que arqueólogos con propósitos científicos hagan sus estudios de una forma apropiada ni el rescate de elementos culturales tan valiosos como el oro, aunque sin el precio del mismo pero más valiosos para el patrimonio mundial.


It sailed from New York on Oct. 18, 1865, carrying 59 passengers and a cargo of hope bound for a once-confident New Orleans now recovering from Civil War traumas. The storm hit off Georgia. For two days, the steamship battled hurricane winds and giant waves. Then the engine failed and the paddle wheels went dead. The crew and passengers heaved cargo overboard to lighten the ship. But the pumps failed and seawater poured into the hold.

The Republic went down a week after it set sail. Most made it into lifeboats and a raft; 42 men, women and children survived. But the cargo of money, $400,000 in coins as described in newspapers of the day, went down with the ship.

Now, 138 years later, after a decade-long hunt in secrecy, a private company of sea explorers says it has found the wreck of the Republic in deep waters some 100 miles southeast of Savannah, Ga.

Ghostly video images from the seabed show a rudder, a paddle wheel buried in sediments, parts of a giant steam engine and hundreds of glass bottles and other artifacts.

The team's aim is to retrieve the money — perhaps 20,000 gold coins that experts say may now be worth up to $150 million. If so, they add, the recovery would be the richest salvage of a ship to date.

The team says it also wants to resurrect history by pulling up cultural artifacts and displaying them.

"If we wanted to, we could go out with grab buckets and get all the gold in three days," said Greg Stemm, a founder of Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa, Fla., which found the wreck. Instead, he said, the company is planning an archaeological recovery.

The ship's identity was confirmed in the past few weeks, the explorers say, and recovery operations are to begin in September. The site is beyond the State of Georgia and the federal government's authority over cultural artifacts. State authority reaches 3 nautical miles and the federal government 24 nautical miles from shore.

In its dozen years at sea, the Republic was reinvented several times as it changed hands. It was a commercial ferry to Central America, a blockade runner for the Confederacy, a warship for the Union and a link to New Orleans after the war.

Mr. Stemm said that this history was probably unique for a 19th-century steamship. Resurrecting as much of that as possible, he added, "will enhance the value of the collection" of coins the company hopes to bring to market. "It's enlightened self-interest that compels us to do good scientific work," he said.

Some scholars may doubt that, saying for-profit archaeology can fail to illuminate the past.

"Everybody says they're going to do the right thing, but often it doesn't work out that way," said John D. Broadwater, a marine archaeologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Field work and recovery are the fun part," he said. "It's the years of analysis and conservation and preparation of a detailed report that usually trip people up. It's hard to get the commitments of time and funds to do all those things."

Discovery of the wreck, which lies about a third of a mile down in cold Atlantic waters, is part of a trend in which new technologies are opening up the sea's dark recesses. Almost anything lost at sea can now be found, given enough time, money and talent.

The Republic was built in the transitional age between sail and steam. Launched in Baltimore in 1853, it was 210 feet long and bore two masts, sails and a steam engine. The single piston, more than 6 feet wide, turned side wheels 28 feet across.

Historians say the steamship could carry up to 100 passengers and 5,000 barrels of cargo and began its career along the Atlantic seaboard in merchant trade.

In 1856, it hauled passengers to Nicaragua, according to "American Steamships on the Atlantic" (Associated University Presses, 1981). They included soldiers of fortune as well as would-be miners eager to join the California gold rush. The miners sought quick passage across the isthmus to waiting Pacific ships.

In 1861, the Confederates seized the ship as a blockade runner. When Union forces took New Orleans in 1862, they discovered it at the dock heavy with cotton. The North put in big guns. Vice Adm. David G. Farragut, using it as his flagship, sailed it up the Mississippi in his successful campaign to split the Confederacy in two.

After the war, back in New York, the ship was sold to a Northern steamship entrepreneur, who named it the Republic.

Advertisements for the fateful voyage ran repeatedly in The New York Times before it sailed. "For New-Orleans Direct," they read. Passage "with unsurpassed accommodations," cost $60.

After the hurricane struck, reports of the sinking trickled in.

"Disaster at Sea," read the Times headline of Oct. 30, five days after the sinking. A follow-up article on Nov. 3 quoted the Republic's captain, Edward Young, as saying the cargo had included "$400,000 in specie," or coins. "Everything on board, except what the passengers stood in, went down with the ship."

Some 130 years later, in the early 1990's, Mr. Stemm of Odyssey and his business partner, John Morris, were approached by a researcher who said he had good information on where the Republic lay. That sparked an intense search in shallow coastal waters, to no avail.

After a long pause in the hunt, the team did its own research, calculating how far survivors might have drifted in the Gulf Stream and where the ship most probably went down. A decision was made to expand the search area, and a new, more powerful kind of sonar, Mr. Stemm recalled, aided the renewed hunt.

Then, early last month, off Georgia, the sonar produced a tantalizing image. The team returned a week later with a high-resolution sonar for a closer look. The target appeared to be a sunken steamer, its side wheels casting eerie shadows.

On Aug. 2, the team returned to the site with a tethered underwater robot bearing lights and a video camera. After two days of frustration, the robot was finally moving across the seabed when it passed a big copper-clad rudder. Then a side wheel appeared and, finally, a view of the whole deteriorating hulk .

"It matches all the things we were looking for," said Ernie Tapanes, the project manager. "All the dimensions are right — the engine configuration, the double boilers, the size of the paddle wheels. I have no doubt whatsoever that this is our ship."

In all, the search had covered more than 1,200 square miles of the Atlantic seabed.

To assert a claim, the team took a bottle recovered from the site to a federal courthouse in Tampa. Mr. Stemm said the court on Aug. 6 granted Odyssey exclusive salvage rights.

He added that Odyssey was talking to the company that insured the money shipment about how the profits from the recovery would be divided. The salvagers say they expect to retain most of it.

Donald H. Kagin, a coin expert in Tiburon, Calif., who is advising Odyssey, said the Republic's shipment might be worth $150 million to collectors if the mix includes many $20 gold pieces. "That would make it the greatest treasure ever recovered" from an old shipwreck, he said.

Mr. Stemm said recovery of the money might take from days to two months, depending on how the coins were packed. The archaeology, he added, would take another month or two.

After the Republic, Odyssey plans to move its recovery ship to the Mediterranean to reclaim what is thought to be the wreck of the warship H.M.S. Sussex, doing so in partnership with the British government. Experts estimate its cargo of coins might fetch as much as $4 billion.

The explorers say few scholarly teams have the financial resources to find and retrieve such deep wrecks. And they insist their work will meet or exceed academic standards. "Our actions will speak very loudly to critics who say the private sector can't do good archaeology," Mr. Stemm said.

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