Gold hunters are heading back to the wreck of a ship that sank off the coast of South Carolina nearly 160 years ago, reviving an effort begun in 1987 by a colourful salvage diver who recovered millions from the site before ripping off his partners and disappearing.
Odyssey Marine Exploration, a deep-ocean exploration company based in Florida, left port late last week to recover gold that could be worth tens of millions of dollars that went down with the SS Central America and now rests a mile-and-a-half under the sea some 160 miles off the Palmetto State’s coast. The sunken treasure was first discovered by Tommy Thompson, and has been the subject of a protracted legal battle — not to mention a best-selling book. Thompson, who sold salvaged gold bars and coins to a California mint for $52 million before going on the run, remains a wanted man after failing to appear in an Ohio court in 2012. The 62-year-old seasoned sailor and diver is accused of cheating his team of nine technicians of at least $2 million, and they have been fighting for their cut in court for years.
If Odyssey is successful, it and the technicians could see a major payday.
“From what our research team has uncovered, along with the data collected by researchers for the court-appointed receiver, there is potentially a substantial amount of gold left on the site, along with some other interesting artifacts,” said Mark Gordon, the company’s chief operating officer and president, in a statement. “As importantly, there is a tremendous amount of scientific and archaeological knowledge that we will document from this deep-water site. It is exciting for us to be a part of the next chapter of this great American story and we look forward to sharing the results of our work.”
Estimates of how much gold was on the ship when it went down have ranged as high as 10 tons. Less than 5 percent of the site was investigated by Thompson’s team in the late 1980s and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern Division of Virginia ruled last May to appoint a receiver to supervise resumption of the recovery mission. Gold was valued at about $19 per ounce in 1857; today it sells for around $1,300 an ounce. Bob Evans, of Recovery Limited Partnership, the court-appointed receiver that hired Odyssey, told Bloomberg there may be up to $86 million of gold still lying on the ship.
“We expect the project to move forward quickly since we have access to all the previous records and images, which provide us with a great overview of the shipwreck,” Gordon said in a statement. “This has allowed us to begin planning operations that will focus on the most interesting and prospective areas of the site after we have completed a pre-disturbance survey and high-resolution photomosaic.”
The wreck lies too deep for humans to dive, but that won’t stop the salvage operation. Using its research vessel, the Odyssey Explorer, the company will use an 8-ton remotely operated vehicle (ROV) called Zeus to scan the ocean floor while the operation is directed by an archaeologist and project manager thousands of feet away.
“The SS Central America is one of the greatest shipwreck stories of all time,” Odyssey’s CEO Greg Stemm said in a statement. “We’re very familiar with mid-19th century paddlewheel shipwrecks, as well as the range of artifacts that are likely to be on the site … The SS Central America is less than half the 15,000 feet depth of the SS Gairsoppa, from which we successfully recovered nearly $80 million in silver over the past two years.”
The ship, originally launched in 1852 as the SS George Law, was in continuous service on the Atlantic leg of the Panama route between New York and San Francisco. When it sank on Sept. 12, 1857, killing at least 425 of its 477 passengers, it was carrying a large consignment of gold ingots and freshly minted U.S. $20 Double Eagle coins. The sheer size of the loss was so large that it triggered public confidence in the economy to fall, leading to what’s known to historians as the Panic of 1857. The ship was immortalized in the best-selling book, “Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea.”
Michael Frevola, a maritime attorney in the case, said that in 2012 he had a copy of the 1999 book on his desk during an interview with FoxNews.com. The 507-page national best-seller details Thompson’s trip to the bottom of the Atlantic, but the ensuing legal fight is worth an entirely separate book, he said.
“It’s at a point that a book could be written about this is not unfathomable,” Frevola said in 2012. “It’s a good read.”
Thompson, meanwhile, remains wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service, which began using digital billboards in Ohio and Florida last year to locate the fugitive treasure hunter and his 45-year old assistant, Alison Antekeier, whose arrest was ordered by a judge after they failed to appear in court in August 2012.
Thompson reportedly grew up in central Ohio and spent much of his adult life in Columbus. Antekeier also lived in Columbus until she moved with Thompson to Vero Beach, Fla., where the couple has been living as recently as 2012.
Solo Travelling and Scuba Diving
Solo traveling elicits strong reactions, with some relishing the freedom it brings, while others shy away from the idea. The dichotomy lies between the autonomy of solo journeys and the comfort of companionship. Scuba diving group trips for solo travellers emerge as the perfect synthesis, offering a unique blend of freedom and camaraderie.
Embarking on a solo scuba diving adventure is a thrilling journey into unparalleled freedom, new discovery and self-discovery beneath the waves. However, solo travellers should be mindful of considerations to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience, especially those diving abroad, taking precautions before leaving their home country is crucial for a safe and enjoyable journey.
“I started travelling solo by chance”- my wife recalls- “I joined a group from the diving club planning to travel to Tobago, people pulled out at the last minute and I decided to go ahead alone. I did enjoy the freedom: I could travel at the times I wanted, to the destinations I wanted, no need to negotiate when and where to eat and the air conditioning temperature. Diving is a social sport anyway, and the divers one meets are by definition like-minded people. It’s an opportunity to make new friends, often from different nationalities. I’ve gained so much in self confidence and interpersonal skills, way more than on corporate training courses J. However, as a woman solo traveller, I’ve always had to be mindful of personal safety in circumstances where one simply doesn’t know what to expect. I remember the apprehension I felt on the boat ride alone from Batanga to Puerto Galera in the evening. Also the same feeling whilst waiting in Dubai for someone to pick me up and drive me 2 hours to Musandam. This someone is now a dearest friend. The best thing for me is always to book through someone that has made the same journey, lived the experience directly and has close personal links at destinations.”
In essence, scuba diving trips for solo travellers offer a harmonious blend of autonomy and companionship. These journeys transcend traditional group travel challenges by uniting solo adventurers with a common passion.
The first question and one of the most important, as the answer usually determines your location is Liveaboard or Shore based, and there are Pros and Cons to both:
Immersive Dive Experience: Liveaboards provide uninterrupted access to dive sites, maximizing your time beneath the waves.
Varied Destinations: Journey to remote and pristine locations, exploring a range of dive spots during a single trip. Usually these site are only accessible by Liveaboard
Community Experience: Forge close bonds with fellow divers on board, fostering a sense of camaraderie.
Limited Amenities: Space constraints on liveaboards might limit facilities compared to resorts.
Community Experience: Liveaboards forge a close-knit community of divers and individuals, which may not be conducive to everyone’s character, particularly for people who enjoy some time alone to charge the batteries, or those not keen on negotiating group dynamics in a somewhat confined environment.
Comfort and Amenities: Resorts offer a comfortable stay with various amenities, including spas, swimming pools and restaurants.
Flexibility: Choose daily dives or explore at your pace, enjoying the freedom to create a personalized itinerary.
Onshore Exploration: Besides diving, resorts often provide opportunities to explore local culture and attractions.
Fixed Locations: While convenient, resorts limit you to specific dive sites accessible from shore.
Time Constraints: Day trips or tight schedules may impose time restrictions on your underwater adventures.
Flexibility: Unless you are certified as a solo diver then you have to dive with a buddy or with a private guide, which could be a costly option.
Personal Preferences: Evaluate your preferences for accommodation, community engagement, and the overall pace of your dive experience.
Destination Exploration: Assess whether you seek the thrill of exploring multiple dive destinations on a liveaboard or prefer the convenience of a single resort location.
Choosing between liveaboard trips and dive resorts hinges on your desired balance of adventure, comfort, and community. Whether you opt for the dynamic exploration of liveaboards or the leisurely pace of resorts, each option promises a unique and unforgettable underwater journey.
Dive Destination – Research and Planning
Conducting thorough research on dive destinations is crucial. Understand its culture, local customs, and any travel advisories. Always check government advice, BUT also consider joining Facebook or similar groups and get some real-world advice from like-minded divers.
It’s essential to opt for reputable dive operators with a strong safety record. Sea to Sky, a trusted name in the industry, places a high priority on guest safety, offering comprehensive services, advice, and recommendations.
Ensure you are aware of any health risks or vaccinations required for your destination. Carry a basic first aid kit, if weight allows and any necessary medications. We would advise not to take any over the counter medications aboard, as most are readily available and in a lot of cases cheaper. If you are prescribed medications, please ensure that your country of entry allows your medication, and in all cases please take a doctor’s letter/prescription.
Solo divers should be mindful of diving in secluded or challenging dive locations. Opting for familiar, well-monitored locations where assistance is readily available if needed. Sea to Sky takes a personalized approach, considering guests’ experience and certification levels to suggest optimal dive locations within their limits.
Being cautious about equipment is paramount for solo divers. Rigorous gear checks to ensure everything is in optimal condition are essential. For those renting equipment, Sea to Sky ensures that the dive centre or liveaboard operator’s gear is regularly serviced and up to date. Please self-check all equipment, we are happy to advise on what to and how to check any equipment.
Safety and Security
Invest in comprehensive travel insurance and Dive Insurance that covers medical emergencies, trip cancellations, and potential diving-related incidents. Keep a digital and physical copy of your insurance details. Secure important documents like your passport, travel insurance, and diving certifications in a waterproof pouch. Consider making digital copies that you can access online. Share your itinerary and emergency contact information with a trusted friend or family member. Keep them informed about your whereabouts and any changes to your plans. We personally use Nord Locker to store all relevant information, including copies of passport, accessible via the cloud (No affiliation, it’s just what we use).
Inform your bank about your travel dates to avoid any issues with your credit/debit cards. Carry a mix of local currency and cards. We can advise country by country what cash to take, as in some destinations Euros or Dollars are the better option. Be cautious when using ATMs and choose secure locations (inside banks for example). Keep a small amount of emergency cash separate from your main funds. This can be invaluable in situations where card payments may not be accepted.
Communication and Connectivity
Consider getting a local SIM card to stay connected. Check the network coverage in your destination and inform your loved ones about your contact number. We also use an ESim called Airolo (Again no affiliation) but some of the charges can be quite high especially in Egypt, but for peace of mind it’s great. Carry a portable charger for your electronic devices, including your phone and any underwater cameras. Also check with the country you are travelling to ascertain what plug is compatible.
Familiarise yourself with the local culture and customs to show respect. This includes appropriate clothing, gestures, and behaviour, both on land and underwater.
What sets Sea to Sky apart is the personal relationships developed with its suppliers and its commitment to providing 24-hour telephone contact for guests, offering reassurance and assistance around the clock. Solo travellers can dive with confidence, knowing that expert guidance and support are just a call away.
In essence, while solo scuba diving opens doors to incredible underwater experiences, travellers must exercise caution, conduct diligent research, choose reputable operators, and prioritise safety.
For any information or assistance you require please feel free to contact the team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Join Sea to Sky and embark on new diving adventures! Visit www.myseatosky.co.uk for more information.
The BiG Scuba Podcast Episode 172: Dr. Joseph Dituri
Gemma and Ian chat to Dr. Joseph Dituri. Dr. Jospeh Dituri lived undersea for 100 Days in a mission combining education, ocean conservation research, and the study of the physiological and psychological effects of compression on the human body.
Dituri enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1985. He served continuously on active service upon various ships and shore stations where he was involved in every aspect of diving and special operations work from saturation diving and deep submergence to submersible design and clearance diving. Now that he is retired from 28 years of active service to the United States, he is the president of the International Board of Undersea Medicine. He also volunteers his time as the CEO of the Association for Marine Exploration. He is an invited speaker on motivational, sea and space related topics.
Fuelled by his passion for exploration, discovery, adventure, and making the greatest possible positive contribution to the world, he is fighting for change in a big way and with great enthusiasm.
You can listen to Episode 172 of the BiG Scuba Podcast here.
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