A South Korean marine exploration company claimed Tuesday to have discovered Dmitrii Donskoi, an armored cruiser built for the Imperial Russian Navy in the 1880s, reportedly transporting a cargo of gold worth an estimated $133 billion in today’s dollars.
Launched in St Petersburg in August 1883, the Dmitrii Donskoi was designed as a commerce raider and fitted with both a full set of sails and a coal-fired engine. The ship spent most of its career operating in the Mediterranean and the Far East and was deployed to Imperial Russia’s Second Pacific Squadron after the Japanese fleet destroyed the majority of Russia’s naval power in the Far East in the opening salvoes of the 1904 Russo-Japanese War.
The squadron was then intercepted by the Japanese fleet in May 1905 and decimated at the Battle of Tsushima. Assigned to protect the transport ships at the rear of the formation, the Dmitrii Donskoi managed to evade the attacking force, but was later intercepted steaming for the Russian port of Vladivostok.
According to the Telegraph, the Dmitrii Donskoi was carrying the fleet’s funds and went down with 5,500 boxes containing gold bars as well as a separate haul of 200 tons of gold coins. The gold was being stored in the ship's holds to stop the Japanese seizing it. Shinil Group estimates the gold would have a total value today of just over $130 billion.
The ship then disappeared for over a century, however it now appears its remains may have been found.
According to Aju Business Daily, the Shinil Group, a South Korean exploration company, has indicated that it found the ship Sunday less than a mile off the Jeodong port in Ulleungdo, a South Korean island located between the Korean peninsula and Japan, at a depth of 1,423 feet in the Sea of Japan.
“We found the body of the Dmitrii Donskoi 434 meters deep in seas 1.3 kilometers off Ulleung Island at around 9:50 a.m., Sunday,” Shinil Group said.
On Sunday, an expedition team mobilized two human-crewed submarines as it discovered what it believed to be Donskoi. The team confirmed later that the body and cannons of the ships captured via a high-definition video camera are consistent with the ship’s schematics.
The submarines found the ship’s name on its stern on Sunday, along with several cannons, deck guns, an anchor, two chimneys, three masts, a wooden deck and armored sides.
"The body of the ship was severely damaged by shelling, with its stern almost broken, and yet the ship’s deck and sides are well preserved," the company said.
"Our discovery has finally put a stop to a controversy over Donskoi’s existence and sunken location. We’ll soon go ahead with procedures to rescue the ship," Shinil group added.
Shinil did not say if gold bars or coins were discovered. The group plans to recover the gold later this year with the help from companies in China, Canada, and the U.K. Here is video from the moment the ship was identified:
The exploration firm estimates that there could be as much as 200 tons of gold ($133 billion) on the Dmitrii Donskoi. Shinil pledged to invest 10% of the treasure on Ulleung Island, which is a popular tourist destination for South Koreans. It has also worked out a deal with Russia, the rightful owner of the sunken ship, which Russia has said it would use the money for investments in railroads connecting Russia with South Korea via North Korea.
As for the $133 billion of gold on the sunken ship, it is anyone’s guess if it exists. But if it does, then it would undoubtedly dwarf the recent discovery of $17 billion in booty off the coast of Cartagena, Colombia.
The company said it is aiming to raise the ship in October or November. Half of any treasure found aboard the vessel would be handed over to the Russian government, which if the preliminary estimates are accurate, would amount to just over $66 billion. A portion of the rest of the treasure will be donated to joint projects to promote development in north-east Asia, the company said, such as a railway line from Russia to South Korea through North Korea.