Page last updated at 10:14 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 11:14 UK

Own your share of wartime gold

By Freya McClements
BBC News

SS Laurentic
The SS Laurentic went down after it hit a German mine in Lough Swilly

Shipwrecks, gold bullion, and a chance of a share in buried treasure... no, it's not the Caribbean, but Lough Swilly in County Donegal.

The owners of a ship which sank in the lough in 1917 are to sell shares in the 20 gold bars which it is believed are still in the wreck.

The SS Laurentic was a passenger ship but during the First World War it was used by the British government to transport gold to pay for munitions.

The majority of the 43 tons of gold the ship was carrying when it sank have already been recovered, but the remaining bars are estimated to be worth 10m.

Ivan Irwin is a diver who has explored what remains of the SS Laurentic.

"The wreck would have been four to five stories when it was originally built, but now it's all sort of collapsed and its flat."

"It's been salvaged two or three times so it's in a fairly broken up state, but you never know, they're still there, so the chances of finding them... there's always possibilities," he said.

Historic value

From Tuesday, anyone interested in owning their own piece of buried treasure can purchase a share in the gold for only 49 - but don't start planning that early retirement just yet.

Even if the gold was recovered, said Mr Irwin, there's no guarantee of any profit.

"It's very hard to distinguish whether it would belong to the British government, to the family who owns the wreck, or to whoever found it.

"Maybe the thing to do if you did find some gold would be to sit on it for 100 years, when I think it becomes a ward of the state - maybe there's someone doing that, I don't know."

But, said Mr Irwin, owning a share of the shipwreck isn't about the financial reward.

"The shares are more a gesture, to own something of historic value that's sitting in Irish waters.

"I don't think there's actually any money in it, but we'll keep looking for the gold anyway," he said.

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