A Maine treasure hunter said Wednesday he has discovered the wreck of a British merchant ship torpedoed off the Massachusetts coast by a German U-boat while carrying what he claims was one of the richest cargos ever.
Greg Brooks of Sub Sea Research in Gorham, Maine, said he has found the British steamer Port Nicholson, sunk in 1942 and now sitting in 700 feet of water 50 miles off the US coast.
Brooks claims the vessel, hit by two torpedoes from the U-87, carried a load of platinum bars now worth more than $3 billion.
However, an attorney for the British government expressed doubt the vessel was carrying platinum. And if it was, in fact, laden with precious metals, who owns the hoard could become a matter of international dispute, according to ABC News.
The Port Nicholson was reportedly carrying more than 70 tons in platinum bars, payment to the US from the Soviets for the war effort, according to the New York Daily News.
Platinum is currently selling for around $1,600 an ounce.
Brooks said he and his crew identified the Port Nicholson by its hull number using an underwater camera. He hopes to begin raising the treasure later this month or in early March with the help of a remotely operated underwater vessel.
“I’m going to get it, one way or another, even if I have to lift the ship out of the water,” he said.
The claim should be viewed with skepticism, said Robert F. Marx, an underwater archaeologist, maritime historian and owner of Seven Seas Search and Salvage LLC in Florida, ABC News wrote on its website.
“Both an American company and an English company previously went after the contents of the ship years ago and surely retrieved at least a portion,” Marx told ABC News. “The question is how much, if any, platinum is left,” he said.
Brooks said the Port Nicholson was headed for New York with 71 tons of platinum valued at the time at about $53 million when it was sunk in an attack that left six people dead. The vessel was also carrying gold bullion and diamonds, he said.
Brooks said he located the wreck in 2008 using shipboard sonar. He held off announcing the find while he and his business partners obtained salvage rights from a federal judge.
Britain will wait until salvage operations begin before deciding whether to file a claim on the cargo, said Anthony Shusta, an attorney in Tampa, Fla., who represents the British government. He said it is unclear if the ship was even carrying any platinum.
“We’re still researching what was on the vessel,” he said. “Our initial research indicated it was mostly machinery and military stores.”
A US Treasury Department ledger shows that the platinum bars were on board, Brooks said, and his underwater video footage shows a platinum bar surrounded by 30 boxes that he believes hold four to five platinum ingots each.
But he has yet to bring up any platinum, saying his underwater vessel needs to retrofitted to attach lines to the boxes, which would then be hoisted to the surface by winch.
(Above: The British steam merchant Port Nicholson. Photo from uboat.net.)