Friday, August 27, 2004


New Zealand - WW II shipwreck "Niagara"


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WHANGAREI, New Zealand (Aug 2004) -- Secrets of the World War II wreck Niagara are being revealed by advances in diving and computer technology and the work of a Northland dive expert.

Keith Gordon, of Tutukaka, has the exclusive salvage contract for the Niagara, a cargo ship which sank after hitting a German mine near the Hen and Chicken Islands south of Whangarei in 1940.

When it sank 120m to the seabed, it was carrying 8.5 tonnes of gold.

Most of the 590 gold bars were recovered - 555 in 1941 and 30 in 1952 - but five bars worth about $1.4 million are still believed to be in the wreck or on the seabed nearby.

The depth of the wreck meant only the most experienced and hardiest scuba divers could visit it but new technology is making it more accessible.

Mr Gordon said remotely operated vehicles could dive to the wreck with video cameras and lights, allowing people on the surface to examine it in detail.

And improved scuba diving technology enabled more people to dive to the wreck.

"When we first started looking at the Niagara in 1988, not a lot of scuba divers could go to that depth," said Mr Gordon.

"Going down 120 metres was almost unheard of in those days, especially for sport divers."

New technology enables divers to go deeper by breathing a mix of oxygen, nitrogen and helium.

But this new technology is not cheap - divers to the Niagara have to spend about $30,000 for their equipment.

"But like any new technology, it's just a matter of time before it's more affordable," Mr Gordon said.
He has salvaged some items from the Niagara, including cups, pipes and a porthole, and says the ship still holds a wealth of items - possibly including the five missing gold bars.

The gold is still owned by the British Treasury, which would claim any recovered by Mr Gordon.

He said the wreck, which is lying on its port side, was starting to deteriorate and was in serious risk of collapsing in the next 10 years or so.

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