Treasure Hunters Return to "Ship of Gold"

Posted by Eric Haun
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
J. Childs' painting of SS Central America sinking in 1857. (National Maritime Museum, London)

A deep-ocean exploration company is seeking to recover a lucrative haul of gold aboard the shipwreck of the SS Central America, nearly 160 years after it sank off the coast of South Carolina in a 1857 hurricane.

The work that began this week follows a long court battle over treasure salvaged from the shipwreck in the late 1980s by a pioneering young engineer whose efforts were detailed in a 1998 bestselling book, "Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea."

The 280-foot (85 meters) sidewheel steamship carried as much as 21 tons of gold ingots, freshly minted gold coins and raw gold from the California mines, as well as the personal wealth and belongings of its 477 passengers, most of whom were lost when the ship sank in September 1857.

The ship's gold that is thought to remain on the ocean floor was valued at $760,000 in 1857 but worth millions today, according to Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc, a Tampa, Florida-based company, which won the contract to revisit the shipwreck.

"There's no doubt in our minds that there's going to be an economic return," Mark Gordon, the company's president and chief operating officer, said on Monday.

Gold recovered from the ship by a team led by Ohio engineer Tommy Thompson, which discovered the Central America using sonar and robotic technology he developed, became the focus of an extended legal fight over rights to the treasure and return for investors. Thompson has been a fugitive since 2012 when he failed to appear in court.

Last year, a court in Ohio appointed a receiver who will distribute some of the profits from further exploration to the former investors. In March, the receiver awarded Odyssey the contract to revisit the shipwreck, which lies 160 miles (257.5 kilometers) offshore and about 7,200 feet (2.2 kilometers) below the surface.

"We know that the wreck was only partially excavated, only about 5 percent of the site," Gordon said.

The company's research vessel, Odyssey Explorer, sailed from Charleston, South Carolina, last week with 41 crew members for a project he estimated will cost between $5 million and $10 million.

The Central America steamship ran between Panama and New York, carrying prospectors and their fortunes made in the California Gold Rush. On its last trip, it held tons of commercial gold valued at about $93,000 in 1857 and passenger gold valued at up to $1.2 million, court experts estimated.

Historians say the ship's sinking triggered a New York banking panic that was part of a larger U.S. financial crisis known as the Panic of 1857.

The worth of the gold found by the Odyssey team will depend on what form they find it in, Gordon said. For example, U.S. $20 Double Eagle gold coins fetch $5,000 apiece on average from collectors, he said.

The market price for pure gold bullion on Wednesday was around $1,300 per troy ounce.

Researchers will remain on site for up to five months, rotating crew around the clock and making occasional port calls on Charleston, Gordon said. The company expects to report in about 60 days what the wreck might yield.

(By Harriet McLeod; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Alden Bentley)

Maritime Reporter September 2015 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds


Historic Pacific Trade Deal Faces Skeptics in US Congress

Twelve Pacific Rim countries on Monday reached the most ambitious trade pact in a generation, aiming to liberalize commerce in 40 percent of the world's economy in a deal that faces skepticism from U.

Supramx Ship Delivered to Seanergy

Dry Bulk shipping company Seanergy Maritime Holdings Corp. announced today the delivery of a 56,819 dwt Supramax dry bulk vessel, renamed M/V Gladiatorship.   The vessel,

Danelec Marine Expands in Brazil

Press release - Danelec Marine has announced that it is expanding its presence in Brazil by naming Telnav Telecomuniçacões Navais a Certified Service Center. With

People in the News

Michelle Obama to Christen Navy's Newest Submarine

U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama will join builder General Dynamics Electric Boat, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Dynamics, in christening Illinois (SSN-786), the U.

Navy Kicks Off Tours with Industry Program

The Navy kicked off a new program Oct. 5, designed to give high performing officers and Sailors experience at large corporations for approximately one year.

Smith Taken on Rolls-Royce Holdings Board

Rolls-Royce Holdings plc today announces the appointment of Sir Kevin Smith CBE as a Non-Executive Director.  Sir Kevin will join the Board with effect from


Smith Taken on Rolls-Royce Holdings Board

Rolls-Royce Holdings plc today announces the appointment of Sir Kevin Smith CBE as a Non-Executive Director.  Sir Kevin will join the Board with effect from

Brazil Court Allows Lula Questioning in Petrobras Corruption Case

Brazil's Supreme Court authorized the questioning by Federal Police of ex-President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as a witness in a broadening corruption case focused

Port of LA: 10 Years of Clean Air Gains

Port Exceeds 2014 Emission Reduction Targets for Diesel Particulate Matter (DPM), Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) and Sulfur Oxides (SOx), with SOx Emissions Nearing Zero   Findings

Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Security Offshore Oil Pod Propulsion Port Authority Salvage Ship Electronics Ship Simulators Sonar Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.2255 sec (4 req/sec)