More than 60 pounds of gold were recovered from an infamous 157-year-old shipwreck off the coast of South Carolina last month, and the deep-sea exploration company that retrieved it announced today that there is plenty more down there.
On April 15, the Odyssey Marine Exploration used a robot to recover nearly 1,000 ounces of gold during the first reconnaissance dive to the S.S. Central America shipwreck site in more than two decades.
The exploration was appointed by an Ohio court in an effort to retrieve the treasure for former investors who were defrauded in the original hunt.
The 280-foot wooden-hulled steamship, en route to New York from San Francisco, was carrying as much as 21 tons of gold ingots, freshly minted gold coins and raw gold from California mines when it sank in a hurricane in September 1857. The sinking triggered part of what historians say was the first U.S. financial crisis, known as the Panic of 1857. Most of the ship's 477 passengers — many of them gold prospectors — perished.
The ship now sits 160 miles off the coast of Charleston, S.C., 7,200 feet below the surface.
In 1988, a team led by Ohio engineer Tommy Thompson recovered about two tons of gold from the wreck, sparking a two-decade legal battle over the treasure. Facing federal charges, Thompson and his assistant, Alison Antekeier, fled a secluded Vero Beach, Fla., mansion where they had been living, paying their rent in cash. According to the Columbus Dispatch, the couple left behind $10,000 bands from stacks of bills, international phone cards and "a book that explains how to assume a new identity." And, of course, one large treasure a mile and a half under the sea.
"We know that the wreck was only partially excavated, only about 5 percent of the site," Mark Gordon, Odyssey Marine Exploration president and chief operating officer, told Reuters. In March, the company was awarded an exclusive contract to conduct an archaeological excavation and recover the remaining cargo from the S.S. Central America.
The treasure recovered by the Odyssey last month includes "five gold ingots and two $20 Double Eagle coins (one 1857 minted in San Francisco and one 1850 minted in Philadelphia)." Estimated value: $1.2 million.
The April 15 dive “confirms for me that the site has not been disturbed since 1991, when I was last there," Bob Evans, the chief historian and scientist for the project, said in a press release.
The Odyssey's 41-person crew is expected to remain on site for up to five months. The value of the remaining treasure is about $85 million, Gordon said.
And according to the New York Times, that doesn't include "a cargo long rumored to be aboard the wreck: 15 tons of Army bullion." The secret shipment, detailed in a 1988 book about the wreck, “Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea," was meant to "shore up the faltering Northern industrial economy."