December 30, 2013

Key investors lose faith in Gorham treasure hunter's big claims

Greg Brooks, who’s never had a major find in nearly 30 years, is being sued for control of the search for $3 billion in platinum.

By Eric Russell erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

About 50 miles off Cape Cod and 700 feet below the ocean’s surface lies the carcass of the SS Port Nicholson.

click image to enlarge

The 220-foot Sea Hunter, which Greg Brooks has used in his searches for sunken treasure, is listed for sale in Yachting World magazine. The asking price is $2.95 million.

Courtesy Greg Brooks

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Greg Brooks claims the SS Port Nicholson was carrying platinum when it sank. His investors are suing to take over the salvage operation.

Gregory Rec/2010 Press Herald file

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Gorham treasure hunter Greg Brooks believes the World War II-era shipwreck contains a secret bounty worth an estimated $3 billion, and he’s had his sights on it for nearly five years.

“I’m going to get it, one way or the other, even if I have to lift the ship out of the water,” Brooks told a reporter in April.

A month later, Brooks emailed investors to suggest he was abandoning his search because funding for the project had dried up.

“The sinking of the Port Nicholson will begin at the end of the week,” he wrote. “Only God can save her now.”

One month after that, some of those same investors who had bankrolled Brooks’ salvage efforts to the tune of $8 million filed a complaint in U.S. District Court seeking to gain control of the salvage.

Now, Brooks’ ship is for sale and most of his crew has been laid off.

This is not the first time Brooks has failed to produce results on big claims. He has been searching waters from Casco Bay to the Caribbean for three decades, coming up empty each time. He has been unable to produce a bar of platinum among the hundreds he claims are on the Nicholson, leaving some in the industry questioning his claims, many of which are based on research by his frequent partner, Edward Michaud, a historian and diver from Framingham, Mass., who has his own list of failed attempts.

“If you look at the body of evidence, at what they have claimed and what they have delivered on, there is just nothing there,” said Chris Hugo, a maritime historian and master diver from Massachusetts.

Still, the treasure hunting industry, where exaggeration is currency and financial risk is assumed, exists largely because of such men, master storytellers who believe – and persuade others to believe – that one big payday will erase years of futile searching.

AMBITIOUS DREAMS

Brooks was a swimming pool salesman when he cashed in his savings in 1984 and formed Sub Sea Research, a salvage and treasure hunting company.

Although public records do not exist for all of Brooks’ treasure hunts, information available in court documents, newspaper stories, his own news releases, and from others who know his operations indicate that he has had little success.

Even Brooks has admitted he’s never gotten rich off anything he’s recovered from the ocean.

The SS Port Nicholson, he promised, would change things, and not just for him.

“We’ll be the biggest stimulus package Maine has ever seen,” he said in 2009. “I’m going to make sure no kid in Maine goes hungry again.”

The Nicholson was a 481-foot British cargo vessel sunk by a German U-boat during World War II, one of thousands of wrecks that clutter the floor of the Atlantic Ocean. It has attracted little attention for two reasons: The ship has scant historical value and its only known cargo was car and machine parts.

But Brooks and his supporters believe there is more. He first filed a salvage claim on the wreck in August 2008. A judge granted him temporary custody the next year. He began courting investors to fund the task of salvaging a shipwreck.

Sometime after Brooks filed the claim, he sent out news releases about another wreck, the Blue Baron, off the coast of Guyana in South America. His description of the wreck, along with a photo, prompted some to speculate that the Blue Baron looked an awful lot like the Nicholson. Brooks also said the Blue Baron had 70 tons of platinum, the same amount he would later claim was hidden on the Nicholson.

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