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WHO OWNS THE GREATEST LOST TREASURE IN U.S. HISTORY?

 WHO OWNS THE GREATEST LOST TREASURE IN U.S. HISTORY?
 COLUMBUS, Ohio, Sept. 9 /PRNewswire/ -- Ocean explorers who


recovered more than a ton of gold from the legendary treasure ship S.S. Central America today asked the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to reconsider its earlier ruling awarding the treasure to a group of the world's largest insurance companies.
 In its unusual legal step, the group requested a rehearing "in banc" which, if granted, would have the appeal of the district court decision heard by all 12 judges of the Fourth Circuit.
 On Aug. 26, a three-judge panel of appellate court issued a 2-1 split decision, overturning a 1990 ruling by U.S. District Judge Richard B. Kellam that awarded full possession of the ship and its cargo to Columbus-America Discovery Group, a team of scientific explorers who have labored for a decade to locate and recover the ship and its cargo.
 "In holding that the law of salvage, rather than the law of finds, governs the recovery of long-lost shipwrecks, the appeals court's opinion breaks with every other circuit court that has decided this question," according to a brief filed by admiralty attorney Richard T. Robol.
 "The panel's opinion gives a presumption of ageless vitality to claims hundreds of years old," Robol said. "Resurrection of long-lost claims by lawyers may become a more profitable industry than recovery and preservation of long-lost shipwrecks by high-tech entrepreneurs."
 "A logical extension might be that every person or business who 'claims' to have suffered an insured loss and to have lost or misplaced an insurance policy within the past century should be able to collect from their insurance company," he said.
 "The appellate panel also erred when it overturned the district court's finding that the insurance claimants had abandoned any ownership rights they may have once held in the ship and any cargo they may have insured," the brief said.
 "Contrary to the majority view, the district court found ample direct evidence that the insurance claimants intentionally destroyed all records of insurance and payment necessary to prove their claim of ownership," Robol added.
 "The opinion invites the presentation of stale, speculative, and possibly fraudulent claims and imposes a yoke of costly and time- consuming litigation on this small team of scientific entrepreneurs," Robol said.
 "The implications of this case go far beyond who owns the treasure we found and recovered, and may have a chilling effect on scientific exploration of the ocean," said Tommy Thompson, the group's founder.
 "The deep ocean is the last frontier of Planet Earth. It covers most of the earth's surface, but less than one percent of it has ever been seen by man," Thompson said.
 "Life threatening at-sea expeditions, risk and cost make such exploration difficult," he added. "Our team has developed a reliable way to conduct ongoing deep ocean research in medicine, chemistry, biology and geology."
 "The financial incentives for technologically advanced deep ocean exploration are in jeopardy," Thompson said. "Without the incentive of a return on investment, man's technological access to the deep sea floor and knowledge of its potential resources may suffer," he added.
 The location of the sunken ship had been an unsolved riddle for more than 130 years, until Columbus-America applied existing sonar and imaging techniques and attracted sufficient financial backing to conduct a three-year exhaustive search of the Atlantic Ocean.
 To actually recover the treasure, Columbus-America invented a submersible robot Nemo that could perform heavy and complex tasks delicately in an atmosphere of near-freezing temperature and crushing pressure.
 Columbus-America Discovery Group has meticulously researched the pre-Civil War era of this gold rush sidewheel steamship, and has photographed and videotaped hundreds of deep sea rare life forms, leading to the identification of 11 new species.
 The group's adjunct science program involves more than 50 scientists in studies that seek to determine whether disease-fighting factors in rare life forms have anti-cancer applications, and to better understand the undersea food chain to learn how rare life is sustained in the deep ocean.
 The group's educational program includes museum exhibits, several books, hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles, and interactive video curricula in both science and history for schools across the country.
 "It saddens me to think that a group of the largest insurance companies in the world could be awarded the treasure we worked so hard to find and recover," he said.
 During the 1853-1857 period of the Gold Rush, the S.S. Central America carried more than one-third of the gold shipped from California to eastern banks. The ship sank in a hurricane on Sept. 12, 1857, carrying more than three tons of gold. It was the greatest loss treasure in U.S. history. Passing ships rescued 153 passengers, including the women and children. 425 men lost their lives in the disaster.
 The story of her sinking, first told through newspaper interviews of survivors, was overshadowed by the awful tragedy of the Civil War. "Only through our efforts has the lost legend of the S.S. Central America been rediscovered," Thompson said.
 -0- 9/9/92
 /CONTACT: F. Michael Lorz of Columbus-America Discovery Group, 614-299-6000/ CO: Columbus-America Discovery Group ST: Ohio IN: MAR SU:


LD-TM -- NY100 -- 7764 09/09/92 19:57 EDT
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Date:Sep 9, 1992
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