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The SS Central America Revisited

The SS Central America was a steamer ship that sank off the coast of South Carolina carrying more than 13 tons of California gold while en-route to New York in 1857. Valued at more than $2 million at the time, the loss of the cargo contributed to the Panic of 1857 – the very first world-wide economic crisis.

The shipwreck was discovered by Thomas G. Thompson in 1988, causing a major legal brouhaha. Thirty-nine insurance companies filed suit, claiming that because they paid damages in the 19th century for the lost gold, they had the right to it. This tied up the gold that Thompson recovered until 2000 when insurers were awarded $5 million in gold. Thompson was able to sell the rest of the treasure for a reported $52 million.

However, none of Thompson’s investors, who financed his expedition, saw a cent. In 2005, some of them sued Thompson for their share. In 2012, Thompson failed to show up for a court hearing in Ohio and has been on the run ever since.

Ira O. Kane, a Columbus lawyer and businessman, was appointed by the court to recover as much gold as possible for the benefit of Thompson’s creditors and investors. Kane’s solution to the problem was to go back to the source. Thompson only recovered 532 gold bars and about 7,500 gold coins. Experts estimate than more than half of the SS Central America’s precious cargo is still at the shipwreck site, valued at about $85 million.

Kane selected the company Odyssey – who has recovered shipwrecked treasure from the SS Mantola and SS Gairsoppa (just to name a few). During a reconnaissance dive, Odyssey recovered five gold bars and two gold coins from the shipwreck site. The company plans to move forward with a full archaeological excavation.

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