Page last updated at 00:37 GMT, Saturday, 20 June 2009 01:37 UK

Argentine golden shipwreck found

By Candace Piette
BBC News, Buenos Aires

The loss of the gold raised questions about its journey

A vessel which sank carrying $18m (£11m) in gold and silver ingots has been found in the Magellan Straits off the coast of Argentina.

The cargo belonged to Argentine mining companies Cerro Vanguardia and Minera Triton and was on its way from mines in southern Argentina to Europe.

The boat sank in heavy seas in mysterious circumstances in January.

Although the vessel has been found, it is unclear if the nine and a half tons of cargo remain on board.

The Chilean fishing boat, the Polar Mist, set sail from Santa Cruz in southern Argentina for the port of Punta Arenas in Chile.

The bullion was heading first to Santiago in Chile, and then on to Switzerland for sale.

But a day after setting sail, the crew abandoned ship in a heavy storm.

Gold on board?

The ship was found 24 hours later by a Chilean tug which tried - and failed - to bring it into port.

It went down in deep waters 40km (25 miles) off the coast.

Now in an operation to find the gold, a specialist boat carrying sonar equipment sailing under the orders of the Argentine mining companies and the international insurer Lloyds has found the wreck.

But the million-dollar question is, will they find gold on board?

Many questions have been asked about why a fishing boat was used to transport bullion and about the circumstances under which the boat was abandoned.

Because of high winds, a new attempt to investigate the wreck further is expected only when the heavy weather subsides.

Argentina has become an important gold producer.

In the last decade, former President Nestor Kirschner and the present one, his wife, Cristina Fernandez have done much to attract foreign investment in this area.

Five mines are now active, and two more are opening this year, most of them in their home province of Santa Cruz.

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