Sunday, November 14, 2004


'Civil War Gold' found off Georgia coast in National Geographic special


By Prentiss Findlay
The Post and Courier Staff

Treasure hunters have found an estimated $75 million in gold and silver coins that went down in 1865 on the Republic, a sidewheel steamer that sank in a hurricane.

A new National Geographic special, "Civil War Gold" at 8 p.m. Wednesday on WITV, follows the explorers as they search for and recover the loot.

The Republic was en route from New York to New Orleans with gold and silver coins then valued at $400,000.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, a publicly traded company, discovered the Republic in 1,700 feet of water about 100 miles off the Georgia coast in the summer of 2003. The company has been awarded title and ownership of the Republic shipwreck and cargo, including the hull, artifacts and the gold and silver coins.

Explorer Greg Stemm estimates that 75 percent of the gold and silver coins remain to be found. He thinks it is scattered in a debris field that extends for miles from the shipwreck.

Stemm spent 12 years looking for the shipwreck with high-tech gear. So far, the expedition has recovered 52,000 gold and silver coins and countless artifacts, including bottles, nails, dice, religious figures, writing sets, glass panes and perfumes. Hair tonic and fruit preserves have been found. Because of frigid deep-sea temperatures, the fruit appears to be in pretty good shape. Everything recovered was picked up by a remote vehicle with an arm operated from an exploration ship.

"We've got an amazing collection of bottles, probably one of the most important and historically significant collections of bottles that there is from that period," Stemm said in a phone interview from Gibraltar.

In addition to about 250 different kinds of bottles, the explorers have discovered a cross-section of materials used to rebuild the South during Reconstruction, he said.

Stemm is preparing for his next project, the HMS Sussex. The 80-gun English warship was lost in a storm in 1694 in the western Mediterranean. "We believe we've already located the Sussex. The British government thinks we've located it. That's why they gave us the license to go recover it. We're just getting started on it doing the recovery work," he said.

Research suggests that a large cargo of money was carried by the Sussex when it sank. The value estimates for the cargo range from several hundred million dollars to a billion dollars or more. Work to retrieve the cargo of the Sussex begins in about a month, he said.

"We're estimating that the minimum value is probably about $500 million, but at the end of the day we'll only know when we get it up," he said.

The British government is a partner with Odyssey Marine Exploration in the Sussex project. The explorers will get 80 percent of the first $45 million and then split the remainder up to $500 million with the government, Stemm said.

"We're negotiating a deal for a two-hour, live network special. We don't know which network. We've been negotiating with one network in particular," he said. NBC and MSNBC covered the Republic project. Stemm would only say he is in negotiations with an American TV network for the Sussex project.

Odyssey Marine Exploration is putting together traveling exhibits to tour the country with coins and artifacts recovered from the Republic.

The traveling exhibits will hit the road in March.

"I would not be surprised at all if our guys aren't talking to somebody over in Charleston. It would certainly be an obvious place to visit," he said.

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