SS Laurentic - Lost Gold Treasures
SS Laurentic - Lost Gold Treasures
Ancient shipwrecks. Pirate stories. Sunken treasure ships. Which boy growing up didn’t think and dream of tales of lost gold. Some go beyond dreaming and make it their life goal to find lost treasures. Few succeed. Most contend themselves with a few small finds here and there.
One of the best known lost gold treasures is neither ancient nor has its origins in pirate tales. It is actually a very modern shipwreck, the SS Laurentic. While most of the treasure has been recovered, some is still out there. Intrigued? Read on.
The SS Laurentic was an ocean liner build at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland, between 1907 and 1908. You might remember that this shipyard also built the RMS Titanic only a few years later. So the same shipyard and many of the same people involved in building the Laurentic also help build the Titanic. The Laurentic was launched in 1908 and was soon serving the Liverpool to Montreal, Canada, for the White Star Line, the same company that operated the Titanic.
The Laurentic was substantially smaller than the Titanic. She had a length of 169 meters (500 feet) compared to the Titanic’s 269 meters, and a beam of 21 meters (67 feet) compared to the Titanic’s 28 meters (92 feet). She displaced nearly 15,000 tons, had a single funnel and could carry 1660 passengers in first, second and third class. Her two engines and three propellers made her one of the faster ships in service at the time.
At the outbreak of the war she was commissioned as a troop carrier helping to carry Canadian troops to Europe. Later, in 1915 she was converted to an armed merchant cruiser serving for a while in the Indian Ocean and the Far East.
The Last Journey
On January, 1917 she set sail from Liverpool towards Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada. Apart from her crew and passengers she was loaded with over 3,211 ingots of gold weighing as many as 40 tons. The aim was possibly to pay for Britain’s war debt to the US. The value of the gold was estimated at £5 million at the time, but at hundreds of millions if not billions in today’s prices. On her way she called at the British Navy base in Lough Swilly in County Donegal, Ireland, to drop off four individuals who were sick. On the night of January 25, as she was leaving after the brief stop over and with 475 people on board, she hit two mines that had been laid by the German submarine U-80. Within an hour she had sunk at a point were the sea is about 40 meters deep. One of the mines disabled the power system which hampered rescue efforts. The bitterly cold weather and sea didn’t help either. A total of 354 men died. Many of the bodies were washed ashore.
Recover the Gold!
Of course, the gold ingots also sunk. Their value was so high that the British Navy could leave these underwater treasures to stay there and made every effort to retrieve them. By 1924 over 5,000 dives were conducted and all but 25 of the gold ingots were recovered. In 1932 another 5 ingots were salvaged. This means that another 20 ingots still lie at the bottom of the sea.
Many have wanted to dive to see the wreck and possibly search for the remaining lost gold treasure but few have had the privilege since the wreck is privately owned. Today there are better chances. Two companies, Deep Image and Greengull Diving have obtained diving rights and can facilitate diving expeditions.
The SS Laurentic is one of the more famous shipwrecks of Ireland and this story is a short tribute to its loss.
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