Wrecks to Riches: Hunting Sunken Treasures from Cape Cod to the Costa Concordia

Hunting sunken treasure, from Cape Cod to the Costa ConcordiaOff the coast of Massachusetts, and in the Mediterranean waters surrounding the Tuscan island of Giglio, treasure hunters are seeking sunken loot.

Greg Brooks of Gorham, Maine -- a founder of shipwreck recovery firm Sub Sea Research -- says he has located the underwater remains of a British merchant ship that was sunk off Cape Cod by a German submarine during World War II. According to Brooks, the wreck contains a cargo of platinum bars now worth more than $3 billion.

In Italy, meanwhile, the stricken cruise liner Costa Concordia beckons to would-be scavengers. The ship holds everything from jewels and cash to "19th-century Bohemian crystal glassware" and "300-year-old woodblock prints by a Japanese master," according to the Associated Press.

Sunken treasure

For now, the hoard of riches left behind by the hastily evacuated passengers and crew remains inaccessible. Robert F. Marx, a seasoned diver and the author of 64 books on maritime history and underwater archaeology, told the AP, "As long as there are bodies in there, it's considered off base to everybody because it's a grave." Once all the bodies have been removed, however, "there will be a mad dash for the valuables."

Hans Reinhardt, a lawyer representing 19 German passengers seeking compensation for their losses, seems to agree: "It's now a paradise for divers." According to the AP, "some of [Reinhardt's] clients traveled with diamond-studded jewels and other heirlooms that had been in their families for generations."

The Italian company that operated the Costa Concordia still owns the ship, and passengers of course own their sunken possessions. Anyone seeking treasure in the wreck would therefore be breaking the law. "The ship is being guarded 24 hours a day," said Lt. Massimo Maccheroni, a Coast Guard official. "It's not possible to even get close."

But the prospect of arrest -- and the seizure of any valuables retrieved -- might not be enough to deter treasure hunters, who tend to be a determined bunch.

"Bright-eyed divers will want to make a fortune," said Robert Marx, and given that everything retrieved from the vessel will fetch an attractive price -- already, items tied to the Costa Concordia are up for sale on eBay (EBAY) -- the incentive is large. What's more, certain divers are guaranteed to have a disregard for the law: According the Marx, the Mafia has special teams whose job it is to trawl for sunken treasure.

A Lost Hoard from World War II

Brooks certainly evinces
the iron will of the determined treasure hunter. "I'm going to get it," he said of the wreck, which sits in 700 feet of water, 50 miles offshore, "one way or another, even if I have to lift the ship out of the water."

Brooks has been patient, waiting four years to announce his discovery, until he had negotiated salvage rights. He and his crew identified the wreck as the remains of the S.S. Port Nicholson after capturing the hull number with an underwater camera. When it went down in 1942, the ship was ferrying 71 tons of platinum, worth about $53 million at the time, to New York. The cargo was payment from Soviet Union to the United States for war supplies. Brooks says gold bullion and diamonds were also on board. He hopes to use a remote-controlled submarine to bring up the cargo, beginning later this month or in early March.

Robert Marx has expressed skepticism about Brooks' plans, noting that two companies (one British and one American) have previously sought the contents of the Port Nicholson, meaning there might not be much left to salvage. For its part, Great Britain is taking a wait-and-see approach. A lawyer retained by the British government in the case, Timothy Shusta of Tampa, Fla., has said England won't decide whether to file a claim until salvage operations are under way.

Brooks remains confident, citing a Treasury Department ledger that says the precious metal was indeed on board, as well as footage from his underwater camera showing a platinum bar surrounded by boxes which he believes contain still more platinum. He'll have to modify his underwater craft before it can retrieve the metal: He thinks attaching lines to the boxes and hoisting them with a winch will do the trick.

Much less optimistic are Hans Reinhardt's clients, who have resigned themselves to receiving a cash settlement in lieu of their actual valuables. "They would prefer to get their original stuff," said Reinhard. "But they don't have hope."

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February 07 2012 at 5:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

After 50 years it belong to who ever can reach it first. Good luck .wish it has been me

February 07 2012 at 5:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Given the shallow water and the inconvenient location of this shipwreck the Italians might attempt to temporarily refloat it somehow, so that it can be removed and either salvaged or resunk in deeper water. In that event, hopefully any valuables belonging to passengers and their families would be collected and returned.

February 07 2012 at 5:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It says the ship had 71 tons of platinum plus gold and diamonds at the time 700 ft of water 50 miles off shore. I said this before on other sites about this story. The US and British gov. would not let this much money be lost, I bet it was cleaned out decades ago. It is not like the Titanic sitting at the bottom in the middle of the ocean it is right off shore, the government knew about where it went down and would have searched until they found it because of what was on the ship. To them it is like free money, if they do not report the salvaged the platinum they can use it for all kinds of secret funding, military, espionage or whatever. I will say it again, the Gov. will not let that much money sit just off shore. They raised sunken Russian war ship in much deeper water to get Russian secrets back in the 60s and 70s, this ship may be the one but its cargo is long gone. Any treasure hunter like this guy needs private funding, he can use this ship and the story to get millions to fund his searches. I really doubt anything remains in the form of gold, diamonds and platinum.

February 07 2012 at 2:12 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply


February 07 2012 at 1:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is an interesting story. It is like rats deserting a sinking ship in reverse.

February 07 2012 at 1:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

People lose their lives scrounging around these wrecks. Any number of people have been killed trying to salvage the Andrea Doria. The inky blackness, cold water, tangled wires and steel....nasty. The grail for the divers in the Andrea Doria is not only jewelery and gold but the Chrysler Norseman, a concept car of which only one exists.

February 07 2012 at 1:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Confusing story, two ship wrecks mixed in one article! Back to journalism school for the writer.

February 07 2012 at 1:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This can't be right. How come you can skinny dip to my cabin and just pick up my family heirlooms like this tub was the Titanic? It hasn't been 100 years nor is the damned thing in international waters. It looks like it is within wading distance of shore. It's just idiotic.

February 07 2012 at 1:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

This is a story about how some day there may be story. Did anyone read it? Yes, the valuables in the wreck still belong to the people who own them, the cops are guarding it, looting will be at a minimum. The reference to the Mafia was just gratitous reaching. On one hand, this article says everyone respects the dead, and will not remove stuff if there are still missing victims, but, on the other hand, anyone trying to obtain valuables would have to be criminal. Maybe human nature is different in the Mediterranean, and crooks respect unwritten laws of deceny? Right...

February 07 2012 at 12:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply