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RMS Republic Treasure Salvage

RMS Republic was a steam-powered ocean liner built in 1903 by Harland and Wolff in Belfast, and was lost at sea in a collision six years later while sailing for the White Star Line. In her time, she was one of the largest, most modern and luxurious passenger vessels afloat.


White Star acquisition

The ship was originally built in Belfast, Ireland for the International Mercantile Marine's Dominion Line (a sister company to the White Star Line) and was named ''Columbus''. After two voyages with Dominion, she was sold to White Star and renamed ''Republic'' (the White Star's original SS Republic of 1872 had been sold over a decade earlier).

Collision with Florida

In early morning of January 23, 1909 whilst sailing from New York City to Gibraltar and Mediterranean ports with 742 passengers and crew and Captain Inman Sealby in command, Republic entered a thick fog off the island of Nantucket, Massachusetts. The steamer reduced speed and regularly signalled its presence by whistle. At 5:47 a.m., another whistle was heard and the Republic's engines were ordered to full reverse, and the helm put 'hard-a-port'. Out of the fog, the Lloyd Italiano liner Florida appeared and hit Republic amidships, at about a right angle. Three passengers asleep in their cabins on Republic were killed when Florida's bow sliced into her. On Florida, three crewmen were also killed when the bow was crushed back to a collision bulkhead.[1]

The engine and boiler rooms on Republic began to flood, and the ship listed. Captain Sealby led the crew in calmly organizing the passengers on deck for evacuation. Republic was equipped with the new Marconi wireless telegraph system, and became the first ship in history to issue a CQD distress signal.[2] Florida came about to rescue Republic's complement, and a nearby U.S. Coast Guard cutter responded to the distress signal as well. Passengers were distributed between the two ships, with Florida taking the bulk of them, but with 900 Italian immigrants already onboard, this left the ship dangerously overloaded.

The White Star liner Baltic, commanded by Captain J.B. Ranson, also responded to the CQD call, but due to the persistent fog, it was not until the evening that Baltic was able to located the drifting Republic. Once on-scene, the rescued passengers were transferred from the cutter and Florida to Baltic. Because of the damage to Florida, that ship's immigrant passengers were also transferred to Baltic, but a riot nearly broke out when they had to wait until first class Baltic passengers were transferred. Once everyone was onboard, Baltic sailed for New York.

Captain Sealby and a skeleton crew remained onboard Republic to make an effort to save her. Crewmen from the cutter tried using collision mats to stem the flooding, but to no avail.[3] By this time the steamers New York and Lucania (from Cunard) had also arrived, and waited while an attempt was made by the cutter to take Republic under tow. This effort, too was futile, and on January 24, Republic sank. At 15,378 tons, she was the largest ship to have sunk up to that time.[4][5] All the remaining crew were evacuated before she sank.

Rumored cargo

There are many rumours that the Republic was carrying gold and/or other valuables when she went down. One rumour is that she was carrying gold worth $250,000-$265,000 in American gold coins to be used as payroll for the US Navy's Great White Fleet.[6] Another theory is that she was carrying money for the relief effort for the 1908 earthquake in Messina, Italy.[7] A third theory, put forward by Captain Martin Bayerle, is that she was carrying $3,000,000 in gold coins as part of a loan to the Imperial Russian government.[8] All of these values, of course, are in 1909 dollars when gold was $20 per ounce. Today, the coin values would bring the recovery to at least many hundreds of millions of dollars, and some experts have estimated that the recovery (with proper marketing of the recovered coins) could approach $5 thousand million or more, making the Republic salvage the largest treasure recovery of all time.[9]


The wreck of the Republic was found by Captain Martin Bayerle in 1981. She lies upright approximately 50 miles south of Nantucket Island[4][10] at Latitude 40� 26' N, Longitude 69� 46' W in approximately 270 feet of water. Despite numerous salvage expeditions, many ship and personal artifacts remain, and as yet none of the rumoured treasure has been found.

The Salvage Continues

In 2005, Captain Bayerle's exclusive salvage rights to the wreck were reconfirmed by the United States District Court, District of Massachusetts.[11] He plans to re-survey the vessel in 2007, and is planning a major salvage for the summer of 2008. A 'section lift' of the vessel is planned.[12]


  1.  [Dead link]
  3.  [Dead link]
  4. Pickford, Nigel Lost Treasure Ships of the Twentieth Century, National Geographic Society, 1999 ISBN 0-7922-7472-5

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