The full fair market value of the treasure recovered in 2014 from the
1857 wreckage of the SS Central America has been awarded by a
federal judge in Virginia to the salvor, Recovery Limited Partnership.
The Aug. 31 ruling by Chief Judge Rebecca Beach Smith from the
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in
Norfolk, also awards title to Recovery Limited Partnership of all
items recovered during the 2014 salvage operations by
RLP’s contractor, Virginia in Norfolk, also awards title to RLP of all
items recovered during the 2014 salvage operations by RLP’s
contractor, Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa, Fla.
Judge Smith’s ruling was announced Sept. 6 by Ira Kane, the
court-appointed receiver for Recovery Limited Partnership.
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Disposition of the award will occur under the auspices of Kane as
receiver, subject to the approval of Franklin County Common Pleas
Court Judge Patrick Sheeran in Columbus, Ohio.
RLP contracted with Odyssey Marine Exploration in 2014 to conduct
the archaeological excavation and recover the remaining valuable cargo
from the SS Central America shipwreck, which is located approximately
160 miles off the coast of South Carolina and 7,200 feet underwater.
Under the direction of a project archaeologist (Neil Cunningham
Dobson, with Bob Evans, well-known to the numismatic community, as the
chief scientist), the Odyssey team deployed a remotely operated
vehicle to recover and document more than 15,500 gold and silver
coins, 45 gold bars, and hundreds of other artifacts from the SS
Central America shipwreck site.
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Operational reports and inventories of the items recovered during
the 2014 expedition can be found on the
Odyssey Marine website.
According to Odyssey Marine: “Prior to any recovery work, a
photomosaic of the site was created by digitally stitching together
over 12,500 high-resolution images of the site. The 2014 SS Central
America expedition was conducted over 129 days and included 83 ROV
dives recording over 2,000 hours of dive time. The longest dive lasted
over 125 hours. A 161,000-square-meter, high-resolution video survey
of the shipwreck and surrounding seabed was also completed. During
recovery operations, the Odyssey Explorer carried 17 ship crew
members and a technical crew of up to 18 individuals and two highly
experienced members of the Receiver’s oversight team.”
Initial treasure location
The search for and recovery of the SS Central America’s
treasure began more than 30 years ago.
In 1985, Thomas G. “Tommy” Thompson, an ocean engineer with the
Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, founded the
Columbus-America Discovery Group. More than 160 investors, most from
Columbus, provided Thompson with $10 million in funding.
Thompson proceeded to research and search for the Central
Thompson and his treasure salvage team found the ship’s bell in
1986, some 8,500 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean.
It would be another year before salvors for CADG, from the vessel RV
Arctic Discoverer, located the shipwreck, in July 1987.
Thompson spearheaded further salvage operations between 1988 and 1991,
with large quantities of gold coins and bars and other items recovered.
The salvaged treasure from the SS Central America languished
for years in warehouses in Virginia while attorneys for the salvors
and the insurance underwriters from the 19th century or their
successors battled for ownership rights.
Disposition of much of that treasure finally occurred early in 2000.
Thompson goes missing
Thompson and his assistant, Alison Antekeier, both became fugitives
in 2012 when Thompson failed to appear for various hearings for an
ongoing civil case pending since 2006 involving the treasure wreck.
That suit focuses on Thompson’s alleged failure to reimburse
investors who financed the 1980s salvage operations. Antekeier failed
to appear to disclose why Thompson did not present himself in court.
Thompson and Antekeier were arrested in January 2015 in Florida by U.S.
Marshals and subsequently extradited to Ohio.
VIDEO: Watch how Tommy Thompson's hometown is covering
Thompson and Antekeier's court proceedings are still continuing.
Quick SS Central
America history lesson
Managing editor William T. Gibbs wrote about the history of wreck in 2014:
The SS Central America sank
Sept. 12, 1857, during a hurricane off the coast of South Carolina.
Some 3 tons of gold, and maybe more, were lost, and 425 passengers and
crew killed when the ship sank. The vessel was en route to New York
City, having left Panama a few days earlier where passengers and cargo
crossed the isthmus after disembarking from a vessel that plied the
Pacific leg of the trip (from San Francisco to the Pacific coast of Panama).
The loss of the Central
America was widely covered in newspapers, as the sinking of
the Titanic would be nearly a half century later. The number of
people killed was frightful, of course, but the loss of millions of
dollars in gold coin and bullion destined for Eastern banks also had a
major impact on the economy.