Andrew Osborn








£2 billion treasure chest of sunken Second World War British steamer 'discovered'

The Daily Telegraph, 3rd February 2012 06:02

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow

Treasure hunters claim to have found the missing wreck of the SS Port NIcholson, a British steamer that was torpedoed off the US coast in 1942 by the Nazis while carrying a cargo of Soviet precious metals worth £2 billion.

Greg Brooks, the co-founder of a US treasure hunting company called Sub Sea Research, said he was certain the sunken ship was the SS Port Nicholson and that its valuable cargo of platinum, gold and industrial diamonds packed in wooden boxes was still intact.

"We have verified these boxes have unusually high mass as one would expect for bullion," he said. "I am going to get it one way or another even if I have to lift the ship out of the water."

If confirmed, the discovery would be one of the biggest treasure troves to be found on the sea bed, and would likely lead to a messy international legal battle for ownership rights would ensue.

Mr Brooks, who first discovered the wreck in 2008 but kept his find secret until now while quietly securing salvage rights, said his team had identified 30 boxes scattered around the wreck which he believes are stuffed with valuable platinum ingots.

"Things are very well preserved. We even flipped the pages in a book and the pages remained intact. That was amazing to see."

The SS Port Nicholson was sunk by two torpedoes launched from a German U-boat in 1942 with the loss of six lives as it made its way from Halifax in Canada to New York.

Escorted by an unusually high number of war ships, it was reported to be carrying a Soviet cargo of precious metals meant to recompense the US government for military supplies it had delivered to Moscow under the so-called lend-lease programme.

The valuable cargo was reportedly accompanied by two Soviet envoys who survived the German attack only to then mysteriously disappear when brought ashore in the United States. The Soviet government is reported to have subsequently reimbursed the US government for the lost payment.

Mr Brooks said he had found the wreck in 700 feet of water off Cape Cod off America's east coast using shipboard sonar and had later used underwater cameras and remotely operated underwater vehicles to explore the wreck.

Underwater vehicles have so far been unable to even lift the boxes said to be containing the precious metals due to their weight however, and Mr Brooks is in the process of raising fresh funds to finance the salvage operation which is expected to begin in the coming months.

Some experts have advised caution though, saying it is too early to say whether Mr Brook's suspicions about the ship's cargo are right. The UK government is keeping a close eye on proceedings and has not ruled out making an ownership claim if it turns out the ship really was carrying valuable precious metals. The US and Russian governments might also be tempted to make claims. Anthony Shusta, a Florida-based lawyer representing the UK government, said it was unclear whether the ship really was the treasure trove it is made out to be.

"We are still researching what was on the vessel," he said. "Our initial research indicated it was mostly machinery and military stores."