Recovering sunken treasure sounds like the stuff of Disney movies, complete with busty heroines and Johnny Depp eyeliner. But a group has just brought up almost 1,000 ounces — about $50 million worth — of gold from a ship that sank in a hurricane over 150 years ago.
The S.S. Central America was called “The Ship of Gold”. It sank off the coast of South Carolina in 1857. It was on its way up the east cost of the United States, bringing gold back from California, where the Gold Rush was in full swing.
But the ship was never to reach its port. A hurricane sent it, and its huge stash of gold — 35,000 pounds, to the bottom of the ocean. The gold was valued in those days at around $2 million. There were also 550 passengers aboard, many of whom were likely carrying gold on their persons.
The amount of gold that went down that day was so large that its loss shook public confidence in the U.S. monetary system as a whole and contributed to the Panic of 1857.
All that gold stayed at the bottom of the ocean until 1988. A recovery company found the ship and started bringing artifacts and gold to the surface. But lawsuits were immediately filed by insurance companies that had paid out claims way back in 1857 and were still around. They said they had rights to some of the gold being recovered.
In the fracas of legal maneuvering that followed, no one went back for more gold from the ship. The man who led the 1988 expedition and ended up the target of lawsuits has been a fugitive ever since.
Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa, Florida finally got clearance from a judge to have another go at the ship. Half of anything Odyssey finds will be split among the litigants of the 1988 case.
Mark Gordon, Odyssey’s president, says they were shocked to find gold as quickly as they did.
“While we weren’t planning to recover gold so quickly, it did confirm that the site has not been disturbed since it was last visited in 1991 and there is gold remaining.”
The crew will continue to bring up gold.
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