CINCINNATI – A fugitive treasure hunter’s company has lost its bid to stop deep-sea explorers from bringing up gold and other artifacts from a ship that sank off the South Carolina coast in 1857 – a bounty that has been the subject of legal fights for nearly 30 years.
In a ruling Wednesday, federal Judge Rebecca Beach Smith declared that an Ohio company, Recovery Limited Partnership, has the salvage rights to the ship, the SS Central America.
Smith rejected arguments from another Ohio company, Columbus America Discovery Group, that it had exclusive rights to the shipwreck under a court order and that Recovery Limited was trespassing and should be held in contempt of court.
Smith ruled that when the court order was issued, Columbus America acted as Recovery Limited’s agent, and that relationship means that Recovery Limited has the salvage rights.
Operating under a court-appointed receiver, Recovery Limited has contracted with a Florida company and has been recovering treasure from the shipwreck since April.
It has recovered at least 1,000 ounces of gold, but the exact details of the operation have been kept secret under a court seal.
Milt Butterworth Jr., president of Columbus America, said the company is considering options that could include an appeal of Smith’s decision.
Ira Kane, the court-appointed receiver of Recovery Limited, was out to sea Thursday as part of the ongoing recovery of the Central America’s treasure and could not be reached for comment.
The SS Central America was in operation for four years during the California gold rush. It sailed into a hurricane in 1857 and sank in one of the worst maritime disasters in American history; 425 people were killed, and thousands of pounds of gold sank with it.