Canadians help find lost Russian ship
Cruiser may have been carrying gold
It took a couple of days of scouring the ocean floor, but a team of Canadian explorers with a Vancouver-based undersea technology firm has helped discover a longlost Russian navy ship, sunk 113 years ago, and, according to the rumours, with billions of dollars of gold aboard.
On Tuesday, the Shinil Group in South Korea announced that over the weekend it had found the Dmitrii Donskoi, a czarist-era Russian cruiser that was scuttled following the Battle of Tsushima in May 1905, a major naval battle during the Russo-Japanese War.
Phil Nuytten, the founder and president of Nuytco Research Ltd., said his team has plenty of experience diving to wrecks, from the Lusitania — sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland in the First World War — to the Edmund Fitzgerald, which sank during a storm on Lake Superior in 1975. Nuytten’s crews were just in Antarctica and Brazil, diving at the mouth of the Amazon.
It only took two days for his five-person team to discover the wreck, but that was because the international team of experts from Britain, South Korea and Canada already had a relatively good idea of where she had gone down, Nuytten said.
The ship was, in the end, found a little more than a kilometre off the South Korean island of Ulleungdo; the stern was found at a depth of 380 metres and the bow at a depth of 430 metres. Two submarines, the DeepWorker submersibles — which Nuytten invented and patented — with a diving depth of around 600 metres, found the Dmitrii Donskoi. With 360-degree sonar on the subs, Nuytten said, they could see for about 500 metres in any direction.
“It didn’t take us very long to spot this big bump on the sea floor and say ‘Aha, that’s the target, let’s go see what it is,’” Nuytten said. “The two subs were working on the wreck and one of the pilots went around what now turns out to be the front, and there was the nameplate.”
“I was astonished they found it in such a short time,” he said.
Nuytten’s crew is now doing a survey of the ship, using lasers and high-definition video to map out the wreck. Video released by Shinil Group shows guns, the ship’s wheel and anchor, all heavily encrusted after a century on the seabed.
“The body of the ship was severely damaged by shelling, with its stern almost broken, and yet the ship’s deck and sides are well preserved,” the Seoul-based Shinil Group said in a statement.
The ship was built in St. Petersburg in 1883, all 5,800 tons of her, operating a coal engine and full sails. All the masts are broken on the sunken ship, Shinil Group said. Before she was scuttled, the Dmitrii Donskoi avoided the attacking Japanese force, but was intercepted as she returned to the Russian port of Vladivostok.
The Daily Telegraph says 60 out of the crew of 591 were killed, and another 120 injured. Captain Ivan Lebedev dropped anchor, and ordered the crew to alight on the island of Ulleungdo. They scuttled the ship the next morning, May 29, 1905 — and the crew were captured by the Japanese.
Rumours have long swirled about a legendary cargo: billions of dollars worth of gold bullion, the funds for the Russian fleet. The reports say there were some 5,500 boxes, containing gold coins and bars, aboard Dmitrii Donskoi that would now be worth $170 billion.
In December 2000, a construction company found a sunken ship in the water between Korea and Japan, and newspapers kicked off a frenzy, speculating it was the Dmitrii Donskoi.
The team that discovered the Dmitrii Donskoi hasn’t found gold yet, but they have found what look like a bunch of metal boxes. They haven’t been retrieved or opened yet, though. “We don’t know what’s in there but if it’s (the gold) going to be anywhere that might be where it is,” Nuytten said.
The company says it hopes to raise the ship in October or November. If there’s treasure found, half of it will go to the Russian government, and 10 per cent of what’s left will be invested in tourism on Ulleungdo Island.
THE BODY OF THE SHIP WAS SEVERELY DAMAGED BY SHELLING.