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Recovery of shipwreck gold 'beyond expectations

TNS Regional News • Jun 5, 2014 at 4:37 PM

Gold and other valuables from outside the hull of the SS Central America have been retrieved, and a crew has begun bringing up nuggets, ingots and coins from inside the shipwreck, the recovery company reported yesterday.

“Early-recovery results are well beyond our expectations,” CEO Greg Stemm told shareholders at Odyssey Marine Exploration’s annual meeting in Tampa, Fla. “Nearly every day of seafloor operations produces new discoveries and recoveries of gold in a dazzling array of different forms.”

The ship sank off the coast of South Carolina during a hurricane in 1857, taking 428 people to their deaths and leaving millions of dollars worth of personal and commercial gold on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean.

Scientists based in Columbus had found the shipwreck in 1988 and, over four years, brought up gold bars and coins worth more than $40 million. Their efforts ended in 1991 because of legal and money problems, and the shipwreck’s remaining treasure was not touched until Odyssey began its recovery operation in April.

More than 100 people and companies invested in the original endeavor but never received returns. The Dispatch Printing Company, publisher of The Dispatch and Dispatch.com, was one of the original investors.

Dispatch Printing sued, and after a long legal battle in federal and Franklin County courts, a judge appointed a receiver, Ira Kane, to revive the original companies. Kane hired Odyssey to restart recovery efforts.

Only about 5 percent of the shipwreck was investigated during the original operation. Recovery technology has improved, and experts expect the wreck will yield treasure worth millions.

Odyssey reported a month ago that it had brought up gold bars and coins in mid-April during its first visit to the shipwreck. That treasure was worth more than $1 million based on the spot-gold price at the time.

The company has been unable to report specifics about subsequent finds because of legal restrictions by a federal judge in eastern Virginia. Court documents listing the recovered items have been sealed.

The operation continues 24 hours a day while Odyssey’s vessel, Odyssey Explorer, is at the site. A remotely operated vehicle picks up the gold and artifacts, which are too deep in the ocean for divers.

Shares of Odyssey Marine jumped at the news. The shares, which initially fell yesterday morning to their lowest level in more than a year, rose 25 cents, or nearly 20 percent, to $1.51.

Odyssey Explorer returns to dock in Charleston, S.C., every 30 days or so to switch crews and unload what has been retrieved. Its next port call is expected in mid-June.

Tommy Thompson, the head of the original expedition to the shipwreck, has been a federal fugitive since fall 2012, when he didn’t show up for a contempt-of-court hearing in federal court in Columbus. Since that hearing, which was related to lawsuits against Thompson and his companies, U.S. marshals have been searching for Thompson.


By Kathy Lynn Gray - The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio (MCT)

Dispatch Reporter Mark Williams contributed to this story.

©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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