Published February 08, 2012
Modern-day treasure hunters say they've found a sunken ship off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass., holding one of the biggest fortunes ever discovered in the ocean depths.
"There's 71 tons of platinum, there's some gold ingots and there's also some uncut diamonds, industrial diamonds, that were on the Port Nicholson," said Capt. Gary Esper. He's one member of the team hoping to bring the goods to the surface. "I like to call us explorers rather than treasure hunters because treasure hunters have a bad name these days so we just went out there looking for the ship," said Esper.
It was no easy task for Sub Sea Research, co-owned by Greg Brooks, based out of Portland, Maine.
"It was extremely difficult. We spend almost three months looking for it," said Brooks.
"A few days before I almost pulled the plug."
The discovery was made in 2008, but the crew kept quiet while resources and initial legal rights were secured.
The S.S. Port Nicholson was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1942 during World War II. According to Esper, research shows the vessel drifted before finally sinking, plunging 700 feet into the depths of Georges Bank, a popular fishing channel littered with shipwrecks and known for strong currents and turbulent weather.
"Difficult. Very difficult. The pressure is immense down there. It is diveable, but it's a very scary dive," said Esper.
Instead, the team will use a remotely operated vehicle, a submersible robot with a claw, to grab its find and bring it up into the light.
The search has already cost millions of dollars. Wealthy investors are hoping for a big payday, but there is no guarantee.
Maritime law is complicated. Britain has yet to decide whether or not to file a claim on the cargo, waiting for the salvage operation to begin, and with so much money at stake legal experts expect a battle likely involving multiple parties.
"When you talk about as many zeroes as there are in a billion-dollar claim, that is going to invite all sorts of people to come in out of the woodwork," said David Farrell, a Cape Cod-based lawyer who specializes in maritime law.
"There is a concept of 'finders keepers' in maritime law, but that really applies to ships of antiquity and wrecks that are in the Mediterranean maybe going back to Venetian days where it's impossible to trace ownership. But here with a wreck that's only 70 years old, certainly there's going to be owners and underwriters and state government and federal government and foreign governments that are going to be very involved in getting a piece of those zeros."
The finders in this case want to be the keepers. Ultimately, who owns what could be the richest treasure find in history will likely be decided by a federal judge.