Tuesday, December 27, 2005


More treasure off Elba, divers say


December 23, 2005

Retrieved gold coins to go on display in January
A group of diving enthusiasts who found sunken treasure in the sea off the island of Elba this year are convinced there is more and are preparing for a new expedition in 2006 .

In the meantime, what they found in the wreck of the steamship Polluce, which sank in 1841, will go on display in an exhibition opening in January in Portoferraio, one of Elba's two ports .

The haul includes 12,000 gold and silver coins, an array of gold jewelry and piles of personal objects belonging to the rich passengers who were travelling on the Polluce .

But Enrico Cappelletti, a writer and diving enthusiast who spearheaded the initiative after extensive research, said he was convinced that under the mud around the wreck there is much more gold and silver .

"We've done tests that showed there are more coins and jewels about a metre and a half under the seabed. According to the records, there should be at least 50,000 coins still to be found."

Capelletti said it had been impossible to retrieve all the treasure during the two-week mission in October because divers had spent much of their time clearing up the mess left by a gang of English plunderers five years ago .

This year's expedition was mounted by a private association, the Polluce Foundation, which won the sponsorship of regional and national authorities. It will also organise the second mission .

As was the case before, whatever is found will remain the property of the Italian state and so cannot be sold. Instead the Foundation, which stumped up over 500,000 euros for the operation, intends to set up a travelling exhibition and recover its investment from ticket sales .

The coins, along with an unknown quantity of precious jewels, were being carried secretly by the Genoese ship when it was attacked by a Neapolitan vessel for reasons which remain unclear .

The Polluce sank and all its precious cargo was lost. But its wreck was recently located at a depth of 103 metres, about five miles out from Elba's main port .

There were several attempts to find the legendary treasure, but for many years expeditions never knew exactly where to look .

But in the late 1990s a French historian managed to pinpoint the location from old library records and documents in state archives. He then promptly sold the information to a group of English adventurers .

Forging the necessary authorisations, the group hired the necessary equipment, found the wreck and tried secretly in 2000 to recover its treasure .

But, despite having practically destroyed the wreck in the course of their search, they only managed to find 2,000 coins and a few jewels .

The art squad of the Italian Carabinieri police got wind of the operation and, when the English treasure hunters tried to sell their coins at a London auction house, British detectives stepped in and seized their haul .

Scotland Yard handed the coins over to their Italian colleagues the following year .

Cappelletti investigated the illegal bid made by the English adventurers, and even spoke to some of them. In the process of his enquiries, the precise position of the Polluce eventually emerged .


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