Sub Sea Research LLC, a Portland Maine based company located the worlds richest shipwreck, a WWII British Freighter carrying a secret cargo of 71 tons of Platinum sunk by a German U-Boat off the coast of Cape Cod.
Sub Sea Research (SSR) spent months searching for the elusive ship, the Port Nicholson, torpedoed by German U-boat U87, June 1942. It took two torpedoes and about 7 hours to sink her. U-87 also fired at the troop ship the “Cherokee,” quickly sinking her with a heavy loss of lives.
The Port Nicholson is a steel-hulled, 481 ft. merchant ship, coal fired freighter built in 1918 at the Tynes & Wear shipyard. She was carrying two special envoy USSR agents overseeing the delivery of a very important Lend-Lease payment from the USSR to USA. She along with 4 other commercial vessels were being escorted by an unusually high number of military ships. The normal ratio at the time was near 1:10 or less but this convoy ratio was 6:5. Maybe it was the fact they were delivering 1,707,000 oz. troy, in 400 oz. bars of platinum. Strangely the two USSR special envoy individuals quickly disappeared after being rescued and brought to American shores. They were not de-briefed like all the other survivors were.
SSR first discovered the Port Nicholson in 600-800 feet of water off Cape Cod in 2008. In 2009 SSR obtained legal recognition from the US Courts as the legal owner and salvager of the ship.
SSR researchers corresponded with individuals manning the ships and even spoke with another U-boat captain who was in the same area. They have talked with survivors and relatives of the men of the Port Nicholson and the Cherokee. One Yarmouth, MA author has written a book and is waiting for “the last chapter” of raising the valuable cargo of the Port Nicholson. These researchers also found declassified documents verifying the cargo as well as the debriefing of the sinking.
According to SSR research, the Port Nicholson and four other ships were being escorted by six military ships in a convoy from Halifax to New York. The Port Nicholson is documented to be carrying ~1,707,000 troy ounces of platinum. It may also contain $165M of copper, zinc and war stores. Greg Brooks, one of two SSR founders, said his team has already recovered several identifying and critical artifacts. He has verified that “it is without a doubt the Port Nicholson”.
Late in the summer of 2011, after 100’s of hours of ROV video, they have seen what appear to be bullion boxes containing 4 bars, each being 400 troy ounces of precious metal. “We have seen boxes indicative of those used to store and ship this type of bullion in 1942. Our video clearly shows the box and our inspection class remotely operated vehicles (ROV) could not lift it due to its weight of about 130 lbs.”
A similar discovery occurred in 1981 when the HMS Edinburgh was discovered in the Barents Sea. It too carried a USSR Lend-lease payment. This wreck, in 800 feet of water, took almost three years to salvage in 1981 (Salvage of the Century) and contained $100M of gold (1981 prices). Richard Wharton, one of the original salvagers, provided SSR with photos and dimensions of the wooden boxes from the HMS Edinburg containing the gold bullion bars. These wooden bullion boxes were the same type shipped within six weeks of the Port Nicholson. According to Brooks, “We used our manipulator arm to scale our box dimensions. They appear close and almost exactly match the boxes salvaged in 1981. Mr. Wharton’s photos are almost identical to the boxes we have seen on our wreck. We nudged and pushed the boxes with maximum thrust from our ROV. We have verified these boxes have unusually high mass as one would expect for bullion. What is different from the Edinburgh boxes and unique to ours is that ours are very well preserved and do not easily come apart. Things are very well preserved. We even flipped the pages in a book and the pages remained intact. That was amazing to see.”
“We have been working and planning the site since 2009. Our current equipment is just not enough to handle the 2-5 knot currents, mostly zero visibility and the excessive ocean conditions at the site. It takes us 10 hours from Boston Harbor to get to the site. And, conditions such as these leave few and very small windows of onsite time each year in which we can safely work on the site. We certainly underestimated the conditions and maybe over estimated our capacity even with the 214 ft. M/S Sea Hunter and a 95 ft. ship M/S Son Worshipper fully equipped with a sub, ROVs, 125 ton crane, claw and sonar gear.
Photos taken from the HMCS Nanaimo at the time of the sinking show the Port Nicholson bow straight up in the air. She went down straight and slammed to the bottom vertically, stern first at about 30 mph and is now lying on her starboard side. This position, along with the numerous metal, wires, pipes, booms, debris as well as 70 years accumulation of fishing net snags makes access extremely difficult from the deck side. “The holds are not upright and we certainly are not simply going down into the holds with a lift and pulling up the cargo. We may have to cut into the hull to gain access and that is complicated and requires a different tool set. The ship carried war stores thus requiring even greater caution and safety procedures.”
“There is nothing more frustrating for each of our crew, as well as our financial supporters, to see, touch and feel the bullion box and not be able to quickly and simply retrieve it. There is nobody on this earth who wants to bring up that box more than me. We’ve been at it a while now.”
While the ship, M/S Sea Hunter is capable of remaining on-site in almost any weather, SSR has exhausted the capability of the ROV and support equipment. SSR is now entertaining private support from special technical and financial organizations. The operation needs to re-capitalize so that SSR can order or retain a heavy duty state of the art work class ROV, fully outfitted with the tool set to complete the salvage and bring a bar on deck. This specialized equipment costs about $2.5M, requires well trained support crews and is capable of lifting heavy loads and has a long build/lease lead time of up to 20 weeks.
“Many marine technology firms are very interested in helping and being part of such an exciting treasure salvage project right in Boston’s back yard. They want to share in this once in life time adventure. And, it has a rich local and national history with a high degree of intrigue.”
“We have spoken with some interesting individuals and some family investment groups who are bored with traditional opportunities. They are certainly tired of the significant swings and losses occurring in the market today. They are most intrigued with the unique sense of history and adventure the Port Nicholson treasure simply from the excitement factor.
“Who wouldn’t want to be a treasure hunter, have a real piece of history (1942 platinum) and be able to say ‘I am a real treasure hunter’. It is every kid’s dream to be a treasure hunter and some adults dream of it too!”
“All we have left to do is get the right equipment to bring up the bars we have seen. 2012 is our year to make this all come to fruition!”
Sub Sea Research LLC (SSR), a Maine company founded in 1994, maintains a fleet of ships and scientific exploration equipment to engage in research, conservation, development and exploration activities around the world aimed at finding, recovering or preserving underwater shipwrecks of special historical and cultural significance.
Subsea World News Staff , January 27, 2012; Image: Sub Sea Research