PORTLAND — A treasure hunter said Wednesday that he will soon attempt to salvage a load of platinum bars worth more than $3 billion from the wreck of a British merchant ship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat off Cape Cod during World War II.

It’s the second time that treasure hunter Greg Brooks of Sub Sea Research in Gorham has announced plans to go after the platinum he believes was being carried by the S.S. Port Nicholson, sunk in 1942 in 700 feet of water about 50 miles offshore. If the claim proves true, it could be one of the richest sunken treasures ever discovered.

Brooks went to federal court in Portland and obtained salvage rights to the wreck in August 2008. He said in April 2009 that he planned to go after the cargo within a few weeks. It is unclear why that salvage expedition was delayed.

An attorney for the British government said he has doubts the vessel was carrying platinum. And if it was laden with precious metals, ownership of the hoard could become a matter of international dispute.

A federal judge has subsequently turned down Brooks’ requests to rule out other claims to the treasure, saying the court will first have to see what is recovered. Other nations could stake claims to it.

Brooks said he and his crew identified the Port Nicholson from its 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 a British company 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, a native of Cherryfield who used to install swimming pools in southern Maine, and his wife, Kathy, started Sub Sea Research in 1984. They research and locate shipwrecks and do survey and marine archaeology work using his 220-foot underwater salvage ship Sea Hunter.

In 2010, he loaded his ship with donated supplies and set out for Haiti on a relief mission following the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that devastated the country. After numerous setbacks, including three ocean storms, a 12-day “hold order” by the Coast Guard in Miami and foot-dragging by Haitian government officials, the ship delivered some 200 tons of supplies at Les Cayes, Haiti, more than a month after leaving Maine.

Brooks also searched for a sunken German U-boat in 1996, and announced in 2010 a planned attempt to remove an estimated 16,000 pounds of mercury from the wreck of the Empire Knight, a British freighter that sank in a blizzard near Boon Island, off the coast of York, in February 1944. He hoped to salvage copper-platinum wire that he said was worth $200 million from that wreck, but it isn’t clear whether he received permission to do so.


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 killed six people. 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.

Brooks said he located the wreck in 2008 using shipboard sonar, but held off announcing the find while obtaining the salvage rights. Salvage rights are not the same as ownership rights, which are still unsettled.

Britain will wait until salvage operations begin before deciding whether to file a claim on the cargo, said Anthony Shusta, an attorney in Tampa, Fla., who represents the British government. He said it is unclear if the ship was even carrying any platinum.

“We’re still researching what was on the vessel,” he said. “Our initial research indicated it was mostly machinery and military stores.”

The U.S. government has not weighed in on the court case yet, and Brooks said he doubts that will happen, since the Soviets eventually reimbursed Washington for the lost payment.

A U.S. Treasury Department ledger shows that the platinum bars were on board, Brooks said, and his underwater video footage shows a platinum bar surrounded by 30 boxes that he believes hold four to five platinum ingots each. But he has yet to bring up any platinum, saying his underwater vessel needs to be retrofitted to attach lines to the boxes, which would then be hoisted to the surface by winch.


“Of course there are skeptics,” he said. “There’s skeptics on everything you do.”

Maritime law is complicated, and there could be multiple claims on the ship’s contents.

After the sinking of the HMS Edinburgh — a British warship carrying Russian gold bullion as a payment to the allies during World War II — England, the U.S. and Russia made claims on the sunken treasure, Marx said. The salvage company was given 10 percent of the prize, while the three countries split the rest, he said.

In another big finds, treasure hunter Mel Fisher made international headlines in 1985 when he discovered a $450 million mother lode of precious metals and gemstones from a Spanish galleon that went down off Florida in 1622.

And a Tampa exploration company has been ordered by the courts to return $500 million worth of treasure from a Spanish warship to Spain. The ship was sunk by the British navy during a battle off Portugal in 1804.


Associated Press writers Clarke Canfield and David Sharp, and researcher Barbara Sambriski contributed to this report.


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