Post Submergence Salvage
Post Submergence Salvage

Post-Submergence Salvage.

A successful salvage operation is based on the required presence of three elements: information, technology, and economy, without any one of which a salvage would be uncontemplated or, for a greater expense, unsuccessful. Although the 1909 cargo owners and steamship company would have had accurate information concerning the loss and location within the ship of the $3,000,000 American Gold Eagle engagement, the technology at that time was insufficient to effect a salvage.


Not Likely That the Sunken Liner Will Be Raised.

BOSTON, Jan. 25. - Capt. Alfred Sorenson, one of the best-known wreckers on the coast, was asked to-day what were the chances of raising the Republic. He said:
"They will never raise the Republic. She is reported to lie in 38 fathoms and is surely 300 fathoms. Now a diver cannot work in water over 100 feet, or very few divers can. He cannot perform laborious tasks in water much over sixty feet.
"If the Republic lay in 10 fathoms it might be possible to pump her out, provided there was a period of good weather lasting for several weeks. Where the ship lies is open ocean and exposed to the gales from every point of the compass. You mark my words, she is a total loss. They won't even be able to get any cargo out of her."
[Emphasis supplied.]

New York Evening Sun, January 25, 1909, 4:7

To Fix Salvage and Blame;
Republic Is Lost Forever

... There appears to be little chance for saving the REPUBLIC. She lies at the bottom of the Atlantic at a depth variously estimated at from 30 to 45 fathoms in one of the roughest stretches of water between Hatteras and Cape Race.
Wreckers say that an effort to float her would be foolhardy. In the opinion of P. J. Merritt, president of the Merritt-Chapman Wrecking Company, no such attempt will ever be made.
Vessels have been raised from a depth of eighty fathoms, he said, but only when they lay in sheltered positions and not in the open sea.

Evening Star, January 26, 09, 2:1

The chances of saving anything from the REPUBLIC or of raising that vessel are slight and nothing about attempting such work will be known until the report of Captain Sealby is received and it is known exactly where the REPUBLIC lies. It has been said she went down in water varying in depth from 28 to 40 fathoms. Captain Woolsey of the Merritt-Chapman Wrecking Company said he thought the chances of doing anything with the steamer not at all bright.
No vessel ever has been raised from such a depth and what makes it much more difficult is that the REPUBLIC is out in the ocean and weather conditions enter largely into the work that has to be done. If it were in a harbor it would be easier. Captain Woolsey said that a diver could go down into 20 fathoms of water for about 20 minutes and the deeper the water the shorter the time would be that he could stay below.
The only freight which the REPUBLIC was carrying, according to the White Star Officials, was the cargo of government supplies which had been shipped to Gibraltar for the fleet. ...

N. Y. Commercial, January 26, 09, 2:4


Liner Too Far Below Surface, in
Captain Dodge's Opinion

It will be impossible for a diver to work upon the sunken Republic, either in an attempt to bring the vessel to the surface or to recover sunken valuables [Emphasis supplied.], in the belief of Capt. W. "Tal" Dodge of the Block Island steamer George W. Danielson all ready to start out to help the Republic and only waited word as to the location of the liner.
Before this came the Baltic and others of the trans-Atlantic steamships had gathered about the Republic and the Florida, so that the services of the Danielson were not called upon.
Capt. Dodge said last night that 38 fathoms, the depth at which the Republic is said to be at present, is some 10 fathoms beyond the depth at which divers can work. It is possible for a diver to work at a depth of 90 feet, but the men cannot work there except for a few moments on account of the terrible pressure of water. The Republic is 228 feet below the surface and a diver would be crushed like an egg shell.
Capt. Dodge said he had known of a diver working at a depth of 96 feet, an unusual record. This was on the schooner Jennie R. Dubois of Block Island several years ago. When the diver reappeared above the surface, after some 15 minutes work, Capt. Dodge said that the blood flowing from the man's nose, ears, forehead and mouth, and even from the ends of the fingers, told of the terrible strain under which he had been working.
In Capt. Dodge's opinion, it would mean certain death to divers who ventured to go to the hold of the Republic. He said that the Larchmont which was sunk in Block Island Sound on the night of Feb. 11, 1907, after colliding with the schooner Harry Knowlton lies at a depth of about 100 feet below the surface. It was impossible to reach the Larchmont, he said, and the conditions in the case of the Republic are twice as bad as far as divers are concerned.
Capt. Dodge estimates that the Republic is not far from the 30 fathom curve, so called, along which west bound steamers run on their way to New York from Europe.
The deepest record known to the divers dangerous trade is said to be 204 feet.

Providence Journal (RI), Jan. 26, 09, 2:6,7.


Little Hope of Floating Her Held
Out by Wreckers.

There is little hope that the REPUBLIC will ever float on blue water again. So far as known, she now lies in 35 fathoms, in one of the roughest stretches of broken water between Hatteras and Cape Race. In calm weather there is always rough water between Nantucket and No Man's Land, and the difficulty of the task and the cost would not only make efforts to float her foolhardy, wreckers say, but foolish from a purely business point of view.
Israel J. Merritt, president of the Merritt-Chapman Company, said yesterday that with the information at hand he believed any attempt to raise the REPUBLIC would be impracticable. He said vessels had been raised from eighty fathoms, but only when they lay in sheltered positions, and not in the open sea, as is the case with the REPUBLIC. 'As yet we have not the exact location of the REPUBLIC,' Mr. Merritt said, 'but I understand she is about thirty fathoms under ten miles south of Nantucket. That place is absolutely unprotected, and while we might work on her for a month without mishap the first storm would ruin every bit of work accomplished.'

N. Y. Tribune, January 26, 09, 3:7

Loss of Republic
Total, Say Divers

Salvage and wrecking firms yesterday were figuring on the possibility of raising the REPUBLIC. The Merritt-Chapman company dispatched a tug to the place where the White Star liner went to the bottom in an effort to find out the exact location and to get soundings of the ship's whereabouts. Up to a late hour last night no report had been received from the wrecking tug at the Chapman office. A representative of the wrecking company said he could give no idea as to what steps would be taken until the soundings had been officially taken.
Officers of the White Star company said that they had reached no decision in regard to the raising of the REPUBLIC. It was stated that the raising of the ship will depend upon the official report of the company's representatives.
From other sources it was learned, however, that there was little likelihood that the REPUBLIC ever would be raised. It was said that the tremendous depth of the water in which she settled made practically impossible to bring her to the top, and that she was considered a total loss. According to last reports, the REPUBLIC is in 238 feet of water. Those well versed in such matters say this depth is beyond the limit of deep-sea divers, and that it would be difficult to get men to go down so deep. One of the divers connected with the Merritt-Chapman company, who has had considerable experience with sunken ships, but who did not wish his name to be made public, said:
"If as reported the REPUBLIC is under two hundred feet of water she can only be considered as a total loss. Even a depth of one hundred feet is beyond the limit of the diver's endurance. The pressure at one hundred feet is tremendous when you consider that its weight is one pound pressure for every two feet. If it were possible to empty the REPUBLIC at her present depth she would collapse like a shell under the weight of water under which she is resting."

N. Y. American, January 26, 09, 4:1,2


"There is not a chance in the world of raising the REPUBLIC," said Mr. Merritt, head of the wrecking firm of Merritt, Chapman & Co. yesterday; "and it would be foolish to make any attempt.
"The main obstacle in the way of raising the vessel is her location. The 30 fathoms - 180 feet - which, it is reported, covers the REPUBLIC is not a serious impediment, for we often have to work at a depth of twenty fathoms. We have reached the stage where we can do almost anything under water - take a vessel apart, patch her up, in fact we could build a vessel under water with the exception of riveting on the plates, provided we had a suitable location.
"But as yet no man has discovered a method by which a sunken vessel can be raised at sea. If she were in a good location - in a sheltered body of water,for instance, we could tackle the job with some assurance of success. If we could be assured of two or three weeks of good weather we might be able to recover the vessel's cargo, but from what I understand the cargo was very light, and I don't think it would be worth while trying to save it.
"Right here in New York waters there are two sunken vessels, but it is impossible to raise them. The FINANCE, of the Panama line, is lying directly in the main channel off Sandy Hook. We tried to recover her cargo and if possible raise her, but owing to the unfavorable location and the high seas at that point we abandoned the attempt. The English freighter DAGHESTAN is not far away, yet nobody is trying to lift her. 'That part of the sea where the REPUBLIC sank is remarkable for its choppiness, and whatever we were able to accomplish would be knocked to pieces by a heavy sea. If an attempt were made to raise the REPUBLIC the most practicable method would be to house her up and then lift her by pontoons and cables."
John Arbuckle, who raised the cruiser YANKEE
1 that sank in Buzzard's Bay, was asked by a reporter for The World last night for his opinion as to whether the REPUBLIC could be raised. "It's a very difficult problem and will take me some time. I don't care to express an opinion just now."

N. Y. World, January 26, 09, 4:6, 7 & 8

The Arbuckle Wrecking Company may be given a chance to raise the Republic. Officers of that company were in conference with the White Star officials to-day and it was said that there is a possibility of saving part of the cargo, consisting of imperishable goods. [What "imperishable goods"?]

Christian Science Monitor (Boston), January 26, 1909, 2:6.


May Use Big Magnets
on Steamship

Engineers Figure Compressed
Air Will Assist

NEW BEDFORD, Feb 1 - Engineer William Wallace Weatherspoon, in charge of the raising of the YANKEE1 says the John Arbuckle company is considering undertaking to raise the REPUBLIC, which now lies 40 fathoms down, off No Man's Land.
Mr. King, the expert who evolved the theory of using compressed air, is at present studying the problem and has gone to New York to inspect the FLORIDA and learn as much as possible from her condition of the extent of damage to the REPUBLIC.
If the work is undertaken, a combination of electricity and compressed air will be used. Forty fathoms is 180 feet lower down than a diver can work, but powerful electro magnets are expected to do work the divers cannot perform.
The Arbuckle engineers propose there magnets shall grip the steel sides of the ship, just as the magnets grab flat cars in the yards of the Pennsylvania railroad company and drop them where the freight handlers desire.
"We have been looking for a deep-water job," says Mr. Weatherspoon, "for some time and a steamer wrecked in the Klondyke region
2 was first under consideration. The REPUBLIC affords just the opportunity, perhaps, to demonstrate the method. The steamer is certainly worth saving. If it was a pile of a million dollars in gold down at the bottom of the sea, some one would be going after it." The REPUBLIC's weight is estimated at 10,000 tons. To counteract this, lifting force and buoyancy must be provided. The plan of the Arbuckle company is to suspend by chains from lighters above the sunken ship magnets which would clamp to the side of the vessel. Pontoons connected with air compressor plants on the surface would then be slipped down, and when in position the combined forces of electricity and compressed air are expected to bring the vessel to the surface. ... The problem does not daunt the Arbuckle engineers. They are used to being laughed at by those familiar with old methods. They were laughed at, they say, when they declared they could lift the YANKEE from the rock, but the application of compressed air under such circumstances has been proved.
"We have not begun to appreciate," the engineers say, "the possibilities of modern devices in every day use elsewhere applied to wrecking." ...

Boston Globe, February 1, 09, 6:1


The steamer Republic that sank on Nantucket shoals on Jan. 24, after collision with the steamer Florida, now lies in about 270 feet of water, a depth to which divers cannot descend, as is shown by the following:
"The depth to which a diver can descend would appear to be limited by his power for withstanding the adverse influences acting upon him while carrying on his duties under water. Apparently a descent of 30 fathoms of water (180 feet), marks the limit of safety for even the few divers who possess the necessary physical fitness, in combination with a disregard for danger beyond the average. Of 352 divers employed at greater depths than 10
[sic, most likely 100] feet, it was found by investigation that 30 were seriously injured, and the result was fatal in ten instances. . . ."

Along the Coast I, No. 1 (Mar 1909), p. 17.

If the REPUBLIC could have been towed to shoal water, and the attempt was made but unsuccessful, a salvage would have been possible. The REPUBLIC, however, sank in 240 feet of water and in the open ocean - fifty miles South of Nantucket Island - too far removed from any safe harbor or operational land base and beyond the technology of the era.

In fact, the technology to conduct such a salvage, as a result of the off-shore oil industry, has only recently become available. The mid to late 1960's saw the development of saturation diving systems (discussed on the next page) which would allow divers to work at significant depths for prolonged periods.

Although the technology was available by the 1960s, the facts surrounding the $3,000,000 American Gold Eagle shipment were not. The researchers of diving companies who possessed the necessary salvage technology pursued only the Navy Payroll and Italian Relief Shipment theories. They concluded that there was no basis in fact for the REPUBLIC's legendary cargo and, therefore, no known salvage has been attempted in recent times - prior to the development of the information contained within this report.

The economy of any recent salvage operation - the value of recovery versus the cost of salvage - has also influenced the possibilities of a recovery from the REPUBLIC. As salvage and diving technology advanced, the cost of salvage operations would be reduced. The government valued the price of gold in 1961 at $35 per ounce, in 1972 at $38 per ounce, and in 1973 at $42.22 per ounce. All restrictions on holding gold were removed in 1975. Only recently, too, has the price of gold climbed to a point where a recovery of the REPUBLIC's cargo unequivocally out-weighs any costs of salvage. With an anticipated salvage of between four to five hundred million dollars, and a possible return of close to two billion dollars or more, only today has the information, technology, and economy coalesced to make the salvage of the REPUBLIC's $3,000,000 American Gold Eagle cargo possible.

For information on more recent salvage attemps, visit our FAQ


1 The YANKEE, a 406 foot 6,225 ton vessel, had, in a protected bay, run aground on rocks in 12 feet of water. The YANKEE was lifted from the rocks and, while under tow to dockage facilities, sank in only 55 feet of water - where she remains to this day! For more information on the USS Yankee, visit
2 Most probably the SS Islander. On August 14, 1901 the Islander departed Skagway, Alaska bound for Victoria, British Columbia, filled to capacity with passengers and a cargo of gold bullion valued at over $6,000,000 in 1901 dollars. Sometime after 2:00 am in the early morning of August 15, while transiting the narrow Lynn Canal south of Juneau, she struck what was reported to be an iceberg that stove a large hole in her forward port quarter. Attempts to steer the foundering vessel ashore on nearby Douglas Island were in vain; within five minutes, the tremendous weight of the water filling the ship's forward compartments had forced her bow underwater and her stern, rudder and propellers completely out of the water.
After drifting for about 15 minutes in a strong southerly outbound tide, the Islander began her final plunge to the bottom, 175 feet beneath the surface.
Several attrempts to salvage this vessel have been made, but all have been unsuccessful. For further information, visit