Battle for the treasure that changed course of the Great War
- On 17/03/2009
- In Treasure Hunting / Recoveries
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From The Independent
The wreck of a liner torpedoed in 1917 has been discovered. But who owns its £3m cargo, asks Cahal Milmo.
Britain is locked in a court battle with an American treasure-hunting company over ownership of the wreck of a cruise liner with its valuable cargo of bullion, torpedoed in the First World War by a German U-boat in the Atlantic.
The 18,000-tonne Royal Mail Ship Laconia, which had been commandeered by the British government, was attacked with the loss of 13 passengers, including three Americans, en route from New York to Liverpool on 25 February 1917.
That changed the course of the war: a graphic account of the sinking by an American journalist aboard was credited with helping to push the United States into joining the conflict after it was read to both Houses of Congress.
But the discovery of the hull of the former Cunard liner 160 miles off Ireland by Odyssey Marine Exploration, a Florida-based company, has turned RMS Laconia into the source of a new transatlantic power struggle.
The treasure-hunters have been appointed "custodian" of the wreck and its contents, including 852 bars of silver and 132 boxes of silver coins worth an estimated £3m.
Odyssey found the Laconia last November along with another First World War British merchant vessel, but kept secret the identity and precise location of the wrecks.
The names of the ships were disclosed in a British government document obtained by The Independent.