Portland, Maine — A treasure hunter said Wednesday he has located the wreck of a British merchant ship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat off Cape Cod during World War II while carrying what he claims was a load of platinum bars now worth more than $3 billion.
If the claim proves true, it could be one of the richest sunken treasures ever discovered.
But an attorney for the British government expressed doubt the vessel was carrying platinum. And if it was, in fact, laden with precious metals, who owns the hoard could become a matter of international dispute.
Treasure hunter Greg Brooks of Sub Sea Research in Gorham, Maine, announced that a wreck found sitting in 700 feet of water 50 miles offshore is that of the S.S. Port Nicholson, sunk in 1942.
He said he and his crew identified it via the hull number using an underwater camera, and he hopes to begin raising the treasure later this month or in early March with the help of a remotely operated underwater vessel.
“I’m going to get it, one way or another, even if I have to lift the ship out of the water,” Brooks said.
The claim should be viewed with skepticism, said Robert F. Marx, an underwater archaeologist, maritime historian and owner of Seven Seas Search and Salvage LLC in Florida. Both an American company and an English company previously went after the contents of the ship years ago and surely retrieved at least a portion, Marx said. The question is how much, if any, platinum is left, he said.
“Every wreck that is lost is the richest wreck lost. Every wreck ever found is the biggest ever found. Every recovery is the biggest ever recovery,” Marx said.
Brooks said the Port Nicholson was headed for New York with 71 tons of platinum valued at the time at about $53 million when it was sunk in an attack that left six people dead. The platinum was a payment from the Soviet Union to the U.S. for war supplies, Brooks said. The vessel was also carrying gold bullion and diamonds, he said.