FLASH BACK: World’s richest sunken treasure found off Luzon, Philippines! #1
November 02, 2001 at 02:11:30 Source:www.treasurenet.com
June 19, 1995 LOOTING IN THE HIGH SEAS
World’s richest sunken treasure found off Luzon, Philippines! Part 1 of 4.
By: GEMMA LUZ COROTAN Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (First of four parts)
APARRI, Cagayan. A sunken World War II Japanese hospital ship carrying possibly one of the world’s richest treasures was found off the coast of Luzon according to its discoverer.
Fred Takaki, a Filipino Japanese maestro has decided to make the find public to protect his interest in the sunken vessel which he claims a rival group of American treasure hunters is trying to plunder. Takaki’s firm, the Pacific SeaQuest estimates that the gold and other precious metals in the ships, which was found in 1986 but was kept secret ever since could be worth up to $500 million.
Sea Quest’s American rivals, he said are working illegally in the areas and intend to smuggle the treasure out of the country, which could deprive the government of its rightful share. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism was shown documents, video and photographic evidence of the shipwreck by its discoverer but agreed to their request not to name the ship and its exact location for fear of plunders.
The rival American group is also involved in salvaging operations on the wreck of the USS Charleston an American warship, which sank 1899. The hospital ship was discovered in the areas where the Charleston was found. The American team has looted hundreds of thousands of gold and silver Spanish “pieces of eight” (that) come from Charleston, says Pacific Quest, which owns salvaging rights to the Charleston and 32 other sunken vessels.
The Philippine government that should have received 75 percent of the treasure from the Charleston has not earned anything from the continued recovery of its treasures, estimated at $20 million. The same could happen to the hospital ship. Pacific SeaQuest said the US-based treasure hunters are after the hospital ship’s content and the Philippine government could again lose its rightful share.
Major players The treasure one of the subjects of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit being prepared in the United States and the Philippines by Pacific SeaQuest and its investors, has attracted some of the world’s most major players in the treasure hunting industry. Two of them are in the Philippines right now, fighting a cutthroat battle to get to the treasure first.
One of them is Dennis Standefer 50, chair of DeepSea Recovery Corp., a marine salvage company based in California. DeepSea linked-up with Takaki and Pacific SeaQuest a local salvage company and was given a contract by the local government to salvage 33 sunken vessels in the waters around Camiguin Island (North Luzon). Pacific SeaQuest’s main rival for the treasure is Steven Morgan, 47, president of Mardive Corp. another marine salvage company.
Pacific SeaQuest accused Morgan of bribing some local government officials, as well as officials of the Bureau of Immigration (BID) and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in a bid to steal the sunken treasure from its rightful owners. A check with the Office of the President showed Morgan has no permit to salvage treasures in the Philippines.
Exploits of Standefer and Morgan, both residents of San Pedro, California, have been widely reported in the US media. Standefer has taken part in other major finds during 30 years of worldwide treasure hunting. He worked with former Diver Mel Fisher, who salvage millions in silver coins from the Atocha a 17th century Spanish galleon that sunk near Key West, Florida in the USA. Standefer was also part of the salvage team that worked on the USS Central America off the South Carolina (USA) coast in 1989. That ship, laden with gold taken from the California gold rush, went down in a hurricane in 1857. The find was valued at $500 million.
Morgan made headlines in Canada when the Canadian government ordered his arrest for recovering treasure from the sunken steamship Atlantic in Lake Erie southwest of Long Point Canada. Morgan’s group has beaten Pacific SeaQuest to the remains of the USS Charleston, an American ship which also sank off Camiguin Island in 1899 during the American-Spanish war.
Looted wreck Charleston’s wreck was discovered five years ago by local divers and was the subject of special report by the Inquirer in 1993. An estimated 100,000 gold and Mexican coins have already been brought up by looters in nearby towns of Claveria, Camiguin, Aparri, San Vicente and Sta. Ana. Standefer, who did the research on the Charleston in US archives, believes the ship contains at least a million of these coins. Under Pacific SeaQuest’s contract with the government, 75 percent of the Charleston’s treasures should go to the Philippine treasury and 25 percent to the salvagers.
Save for its debris, there is almost nothing left of the Charleston for the government to recover, the PCIJ learned. Local divers sent by the Department of National Defense to check out the site were shocked to find out that three-fourths of the wreck-including the whole stern -where Standefer believes most of the gold coins lay, has been completely blown away.
Local divers and residents have said Morgan and his team of divers and explosives experts salvaged the area aboard a freighter three weeks ago. The group reportedly working in connivance with some local government officials and local detachment of Philippine Coast Guard work on the site without restriction. “He could easily packed up from $8 to $10 million worth of these coins”, Standefer said.
This account is bolstered by an intelligence officer who said that Morgan’s group bought a salvage boat called the Three Brothers for P350,000. Crewmen of the boat said it was used for diving in the Charleston wreck site. George Panugo, Commander of the coast guard detachment here and representative of the Presidential Security Group to the committee which overseas the salvage operations at Pacific SeaQuest, said the boat is owned by Korean a national. (Note: Panugo was later murdered before he could testify against Morgan at a hearing in Manila).
A local policeman has confirmed that the Korean and Romeo Quesada, the captain of the boat have been working as fronts for Morgan. Quesada actually obtain a contract from Assistant Executive Secretary for Legal Affairs Romeo Corona to excavate treasure in Lai-lo Cagayan. A visit to the site however revealed that the permit covers private land over which the government has no jurisdiction to issue excavation rights.
Standefer believes that Morgan got the permit to justify using the boat which was never seen in the supposed site. Standefer believes Morgan is now after the hospital ship, which he calls “ the real object of his search”.
The hospital ship Military and other documents furnished the PCIJ describe the hospital ship as a 400-foot passenger cargo vessel, of European make and owned by a Japanese shipping company. The vessel was commandeered by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II and disguised as a hospital ship. The red and white crosses were painted on the smokestacks and sides of the ship to deceive the Allied Forces.
According to the documents pulled from years of research in the United States, Japan and Germany by DeepSea Recovery Corp. the vessel was loaded with over 1,500 Japanese civilians and a large quantity of valuable war prizes and strategic metals while it was decked in Singapore in 1945.
From Singapore, the documents say, the ship proceed to Manila and four other ports of the Philippines, where an additional 750 tons of war booty was loaded as well as about 500 more civilians. After being anchored for two days off Camiguin Island, a very remote harbor in the north, the ships were attacked and bombed by allied planes. It sunk almost immediately, killing all of its passengers and crew. The documents say that a number of other ships also involved in the transport of strategic metals and treasures looted from the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries went down during the same air attack.
Japanese military documents confirm that the hospital was carrying tons of gold and silver bullion, hundreds of boxes of gold and silver coins and various gold and silver objects consisting of gold Buddha’s, statutes, jewelry and sterling silver serving pieces. Two large chests of jewelry were also placed on board the vessel.
The hospital ship is believed to be just one of several such vessel sent by the Japanese ostensibly to deliver Red Cross supplies to Allied prisoners of war and to pick up wounded Japanese soldiers returning to Japan. These ships, which were unarmed, were always guaranteed safe passage by the United States, usually picked up cargoes of strategic metals and treasure plundered from occupied countries and sent to Japan to help finance the war.
When United States Intelligence found this out, even hospital ships were not spared from attacks. One of these ships was the Awa Maru, which sunk several hundred kilometers from where Takaki’s hospital ship was found.
The Awa Maru went down in the Formosa Strait on April 4, 1945 after being torpedoed by the US submarine Queenfish. The Awa Maru has a documented cargo, which is now considered history’s richest treasure. As reported by the San Diego Evening Tribune, is consisted of 40 tons of gold and 12 tons of platinum worth about $58 million, bails of paper currency, 40 cases of jewelry, plundered throughout Southeast Asia by Japanese Occupation forces. It also contained 150,000 karats of diamonds in three safes, 2,000 tons of lead, 800 tons of titanium.
The estimated minimum value of the Awa Maru is $500 million. The total value could exceed $5 billion. Takaki’s hospital ship, which reportedly docked in Singapore at the same time as the Awa Maru was there and could be worth as much, Standefer, speculates.
(End of part 1)