By Oliver Balch
Authorities have begun an investigation into the mysterious disappearance of a treasure-laden ship after it ran into difficulties in the Magellan straits off the southern coast of Argentina
The ship, registered in Chile, was carrying more than nine tonnes of gold and silver worth at least £14m when it hit a fierce storm in the channel. Waves of up to 10 metres forced the crew to evacuate.
The seven-man crew of the Polar Mist left the engines running to avoid fuel pollution after they abandoned ship. A few hours later, a coastguard helicopter spotted a second boat approaching the distressed vessel.
The Beagle, which is also registered in Chile, began to tug the 23 metre Polar Mist in the direction of the Argentine port of Río Gallegos. Coastguard authorities presumed its intentions were to rescue the ship.
About 25 miles off shore, during the night, the troubled Mist Polar reportedly began listing from side to side. According to the tug's captain, it then sank beneath the waves, and the bullion is now lying on the seabed, 80 metres below the surface.
The cargo was on a scheduled journey from two mines in the Patagonian province of Santa Cruz to the Chilean port of Punta Arenas. The gold and silver was destined for a refinery in Switzerland.
The captains of the two clippers are said to be helping officials with their investigation. In the meantime, all other ships have been banned from entering the area where the Polar Mist allegedly went under. Efforts are due to get under way shortly to salvage the cargo.
"The case remains open," said Gerardo Caamaño, the judge overseeing the investigation.
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