Treasure fever as hunters release photos of sunken Russian cruiser ‘with 200 tons of gold’

Treasure fever as hunters release photos of sunken Russian cruiser ‘with 200 tons of gold’
A South Korean firm made a splash on Tuesday after publishing, what it says, is a Russian Imperial Navy cruiser which was sunken during the Russo-Japanese War and may have had an entire flotilla’s treasury on board.

The Dmitrii Donskoi was an armored cruiser in the Russian Imperial Navy’s Baltic fleet which was deployed to the Pacific along with several other ships to fight in the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War. It took part in the Battle of Tsushima, which was disastrous for Russia. It fled crippled and chased by Japanese warships and was eventually scuttled by its crew to avoid surrender off the coast of what is now South Korea’s Ulleung Island, or Ulleungdo.

The cruiser is a coveted target for treasure hunters. According to some historical accounts, the Dmitrii Donskoi carried the treasury of the entire flotilla, meant to cover port expenses and pay the salaries of sailors and officers. Individual gold reserves of several other ships damaged in the battle may have been transported to the warship as well. Whoever manages to find the wreck site may become a very wealthy person.

Shinil Group, a South Korean company, says it knows where the ship lies. On Tuesday it said its exhibition used a couple of submersibles to dive 434 meters deep in seas 1.3 kilometers off the island and found the rusty hull of the armored Russian warship. Footage and photos released by the treasure hunters clearly shows the word ‘Donskoi’ written in Cyrillic.

“The name… was discovered on the stern of the ship,” Yonhap news agency cited the company as saying. “Our discovery has finally put a stop to a controversy over the Donskoi’s existence and sunken location. We’ll soon go ahead with procedures to rescue the ship.”

The firm spent years trying the find the treasure ship and is now preparing for a joint operation with companies from China, Canada, and Britain to lift the fabled treasure of the Russian ship. The salvaging operation may take place in October and November and the finds would be presented to the public in December, Shinil said.

The firm estimates that there may be as much as 200 tons of gold on the Dmitrii Donskoi and that the entire treasure would net up to $133 billion. Shinil promised to be generous with the treasure. It pledged to spend 10 percent on investment projects on Ulleung Island, which is scarcely inhabited but serves as a popular tourist destination for South Koreans. It would include a museum of the sunken ship.

An equal share was promised to Russia as the rightful owner of the sunken ship. Shinil says the Russian government promised not to claim more and in fact has been helping the South Korean firm with their search for the wreck. The money would go into joint projects with Russia like a railroad connecting Russia with South Korea via North Korea.

Considering that in the past the Dmitrii Donskoi had been falsely reported found, Shinil is currently organizing an exhibition of items it lifted from the seabed, to prove the find is real. They say they will put on display personal effects of Captain Ivan Lebedev, who ordered the ship to be scuttled and dies a few days after from wound received in the battle, as well as other evidence. The company said it would give an update on their salvaging plans later this week.

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