Insights

Could there be more treasure at the ‘Ship of Gold’ wreck site?

Odyssey Marine Exploration to salvage SS Central America
By Steve Roach - Coin World Staff
Published : 03/14/14
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Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. has been awarded an exclusive contract to conduct an archaeological excavation to recover the remaining cargo from the SS Central America

The firm announced the decision on March 3, 2014.

The Central America, nicknamed the “Ship of Gold,” sank approximately 160 miles off of the coast of South Carolina in September 1857 and was one of the largest documented shipments of gold ever lost at sea. 

Ira Owen Kane, the court-appointed receiver who represents Recovery Limited Partnership, which has exclusive salvage rights over the shipwreck, said that proposals were circulated to nine firms with expertise in the deep-ocean exploration and recovery industry.

In the arrangement, Odyssey will receive 80 percent of recovery proceeds until a fixed rate — which has not been disclosed — has been paid. After that, Odyssey will receive 45 percent of the recovery proceeds.

Kane said, “After conducting an exhaustive review of the extensive amount of historical research available on the shipwreck, our experts estimate the shipwreck still holds a commercial shipment of gold that was valued at approximately $93,000 in 1857, as well as a substantial amount of passenger gold valued in 1857 between $250,000 and $1,280,000.”

Sunken treasure

The SS Central America shipwreck site was discovered in 1987 by Columbus-America Discovery Group at a depth of approximately 7,200 feet. The shipwreck was conclusively identified as the Central America a year later and recovery operations began in 1989. 

Columbus-America, based in Columbus, Ohio, was led by Tommy Thompson, Bob Evans and Barry Schatz. The firm led the recovery effort in the late 1980s, during which more than 1,000 hours of exploration time was spent on the ocean floor and a large amount of gold was recovered from a small portion of the 1857 shipwreck. 

The shipwreck is noteworthy because the steamer ship, operated by the United States Mail Steamship Co., was carrying a large consignment of gold for commercial firms, in the form of both gold ingots and coins, including more than 5,000 Mint State 1857-S Coronet $20 double eagles. 

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