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Monday, July 27, 1998 Published at 03:34 GMT 04:34 UK

World: Europe

Wreck surrenders champagne cargo

Under wraps: A diver watches over the salvaged champagne

Treasure hunters in the Baltic Sea have recovered thousands of bottles of vintage champagne and cognac from the hold of a ship sunk in World War I.

[ image: Jonkoping's mast is winched above the surface]
Jonkoping's mast is winched above the surface
The Danish and Swedish team hoisted the ketch Jonkoping to the surface to pluck off 2,000 to 3,000 bottles of champagne and 14 cognac barrels.

But they had to abandon plans to save the ship itself and allowed it to sink again when the weather threatened to take a turn for the worse.

Expedition joint leader Claes Bergvall said he was disappointed at having to surrender Jonkoping to the sea but that the mission was still a success.

Mixed results

[ image: The recovery ship]
The recovery ship
The Swedish ship was sunk by a German submarine in 1916 just a few miles from its destination port of Rauma, in Finland.

It was carrying up to 5,000 bottles of Piper Heidsieck champagne, 67 casks of cognac and 17 barrels of wine destined for the Tsar's army in Finland.

French experts have tasted some of the first champagne to be recovered. They say it is exceptional quality having been preserved by the cold, dark Baltic.

Almost all bottles recovered have been intact with the corks in place.

$3,000 a bottle

The salvagers say they have already made deals to sell some of the champagne to collectors and private buyers for around $3,000 a bottle.

The brandies were not in such good shape.

The first few barrels lifted off the ship leaked a vile smelling liquid. Some of the casks recovered later appeared to be in better condition.

Mr Bergvall said: "They are a variety of good, bad and medium quality."

Cognac makers Bisquit & Co are to look at the possibility of either redistilling the brandy or blending it with other brandies.

Watery grave

Mr Bergvall and his partner Peter Lindberg found the 1895 ship last year in 64m (210ft) of water off Finland's west coast. It had lain undisturbed for more than eight decades.

The second sinking of the Jonkoping ended a mission that began three weeks ago when the team anchored a 560-tonne floating crane over the wreck.

Divers fitted a sling around the hull in total darkness on the icy sea floor to help lift it to the surface.

Rauma and the ship's home port of Gavle, in Sweden, had been vying for the Jonkoping in the hope of restoring it as a tourist attraction.

During earlier bad weather the salvage team lowered the ship from a crane onto a sandbank 15m below the surface.

But when storms closed in again on Saturday it was decided the ship was too badly damaged to be kept dangling from the crane.

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