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Updated 12:02 17/08/18

Russian shipwreck discovered containing an alleged £99.7 billion worth of gold

Liam Sheasby

By Liam Sheasby, News Editor

20 Jul 2018

A team of South Korean treasure hunters has re-discovered the lost shipwreck of the Russian cruiser ‘Dmitrii Donskoi’, just off the coast of the Korean island of Ulleungdo in the Sea of Japan.

The sunken vessel is believed to contain almost £100 billion worth of gold bullion bars and coins, weighing approximately 200 tonnes, in around 5,500 boxes or containers.

The dive team comprised of experts from Korea’s Shinil Group, as well as ocean salvage specialists from Britain and Canada. The discovery was made at 9:48am on Sunday 15th July at a depth of approximately 1,400 feet beneath sea level.

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The island of Ulleungdo, situated in the Sea of Japan. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

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The Wreck:

The video below shows footage of the discovery by the salvage team from their two submersibles. The film shows that the hull, masts, and the stern of the Donskoi are damaged, but the upper deck remains intact and the hull is also well preserved. The video also shows the ship’s anchors and machine guns still in place.

The Shinil Group has said it will take several months to orchestrate salvage work and raise the wreck, estimating that the ship would be raised in October or November this year.

The group plans to give half of the recovered gold back to the Russian government, and then give 10% of the remaining half (£4.985 million) to the island of Ulleungdo for tourism purposes, including a museum dedicated to the ship.

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Video footage of the Donskoi discovery courtesy of the Shinil Group

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Controversy and Doubt:

The Shinil Group who discovered the wreckage initially stated that they were the first team to find the Dmitrii Donskoi, but this has since been proven incorrect by the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology (KIOST).

The government-funded team found the wreckage in 2003 but failed to raise it. Their discovery was reported by Korean and regional media organisations and the public can still see the photographs the team took from their dives 15 years ago.

This previous discovery could jeopardise the latest team’s claim to the salvage, as they wouldn’t be the only right holders to the wreckage, but KIOST also claim that the Shinil Group found the Donskoi through unauthorised use of information that was the intellectual property of the institute.

There are further obstacles for the Korean treasure hunters to overcome too. The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has told BBC Korea that the Shinil Group has not yet applied for salvage rights and were it to do so it would owe 10% of the salvage value to the Korean government.

Even if the Shinil Group and their associates from Britain and Canada ARE successful in getting permission and being the sole rights holders for the salvage, some experts are saying that the ship couldn’t physically hold 200 tonnes of gold as well as the crew, rations, and munitions, while others question why the Donskoi would even hold that much gold in the first place given the easier travel arrangement of gold bullion to go by train to the port of Vladivostok.

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Dmitrii Donskoi in New York Harbour on Thursday April 27th, 1893 on a goodwill visit coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Columbus. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia and the Creative Commons license.

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The history of the Dmitrii Donskoi:

The Dmitrii Donskoi (Дмитрий Донской) was a first-class ironclad Russian cruiser named after the Grand Duke of Moscow. It was built in 1885 and weighed 5,800 tonnes. It served for 20 years in the Russian Baltic Fleet and was used in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 to protect slower transport ships.

The ship was taking part in the Battle of Tsushima when it was separated from the rest of the Russian Fleet in low light. The ship’s captain elected to make a break for it, choosing to race north towards Vladivostok, through the Japanese fleet. The first attack by the Japanese was unsuccessful in damaging the cruiser but later in the night it was spotted again and suffered critical damage, with 60 of the 591 crew members killed in the firefight and a further 120 injured.

Captain Lebedev elected to weigh anchor at Ulleungdo for the night and disembark, before scuttling the ship the next day on May 29th, 1905. It is believed this was done so that its cargo – the alleged gold hoard – would not fall into Japanese hands. The team from the Shinil Group claim that this vast wealth was the wages for the entire Russian navy.

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To read the official press release given by the Shinil Group to PR Newswire, click here.

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