Catherine the Great
The Frau Maria was commissioned by Catherine the Great to transport precious porcelain, gold, silver, bronze and 27 paintings by Dutch masters for her art collection, which became the basis for the Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg.
But the ship was struck by a storm in October 1771 and sank 41 metres (135 feet) off the coast of what was then Sweden, Tarasov said.
Artem Tarasov, head of the Rescue of National Cultural and Historic Valuables fund, said the project would take two years.
"We would like to say that within two years all necessary measures will be taken and in 2010 we will be able to finally see what secrets this ship holds."
There is hope that the paintings have not been ruined, he said.
Catherine herself sent off several expeditions in vain efforts to raise the schooner, which may indicate that the paintings, whose total cost could be up to 100 million euros, were packed into leaden boxes sealed with wax and could yet be salvaged, Tarasov said.
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