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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 August, 2003, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Tyne company helps treasure hunt
SS Republic - picture from Odyssey Marine Explorations
Personal belongings have been found near the paddle steamer

One of richest hoards of sunken treasure in the world is on the verge of being salvaged thanks to help from a Tyneside company.

A shipwrecked paddle steamer, laden with gold coins, is being recovered from the American coast with the help of marine equipment from a company in Walker.

The SS Republic set sail from New York in 1865 carrying 20,000 gold coins, but sank in a hurricane off the coast of Georgia just seven days into her voyage.

Now an American company called Odyssey Marine Exploration has discovered the wreck and commissioned equipment from SMD Limited in Walker.

SMD designs special underwater machinery, which it is hoped will help recover the coins from the paddle steamer.

The pieces of gold were originally worth up to $20 each, but now they have an estimated value of $180m.

Share price

Odyssey has also discovered bottles and personal possessions of the 80 people on board who drowned, scattered on ocean floor.

The American company has scoured the sea bed for two years, and can keep everything it finds.

On the exploration dives there was no sign of the missing gold but the salvage is due to be stepped up in September.

After announcing it had found the SS Republic, Odyssey Marine Exploration's share price went up 80%.

Greg Stemm, the US company's founder, said the coins are highly collectable.

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