Company to attempt salvaging sunken ship with estimated $10 million in gold on board

Northwest Shipwreck Alliance/submitted
The SS Pacific departed from Esquimalt en route to San Francisco during poor weather conditions on Nov. 4, 1875 and sunk after colliding with another ship.

A U.S. company has earned the salvaging rights to the ship that sunk off the coast of Washington State 147 years ago, which may have $10 million worth of gold.

On the night of Nov. 4, 1875, the SS Pacific departed from Esquimalt en route to San Francisco during poor weather conditions. The paddle wheeler was believed to be carrying at least 275 passengers. Shortly after departing, the SS Pacific collided with another ship and later sank off the coast of Washington State.

There were only two survivors and it’s considered one worst maritime disasters on the west coast.

“I’ve known about this ship for about 40 years. So since basically the time I was in high school and I always thought someone would find it and do something with it before I did,” said Jeff Hummel, president of Rockfish Incorporated.

The Seattle-based company recently won in a U.S. District Federal Court for exclusive rights to salvage the ship citing maritime law that allows for discoverers of shipwrecks to recover whatever they can. However, if members of the public can prove a connection to possessions onboard, they’re able to file a claim to repossess it.

“It was really a lot of detective work and a lot of legwork,” said Hummel.

Using information from previous expeditions, Rockfish Inc. managed to find a piece of coal in a large search area approximately 64 kilometres south of Cape Flattery. A chemical analysis determined the coal matched that of what would have been on the ship.

“It wasn’t until we identified the paddlewheels and then looked at those with the underwater robot, that we’re able to determine that this ship is indeed the Pacific,” said the company’s president.

The ship may be harbouring millions of dollars worth of gold. According to 2009 paper named The SS Pacific founders off Cape Flattery with a loss of 275 lives on November 4, 1875, the passengers onboard consisted of “prominent Victorians, wealthy businessmen, numerous gold miners…an equestrian troupe and 41 Chinese laborers.”

“The gold in private hands was estimated to be at least $100,000,” wrote author Daryl C. McClary.

That gold today would value close to $10 million.

“Different people can come forward and say ‘I have a claim to this part of the ship,’ or ‘this part of the cargo and here’s why, here’s my evidence,'” said Hummel.

The president says at least four people have come forward claiming to be a descendant including one hailing from Vancouver Island.

“I’m hoping that more [people] do [come forward], that’s the exciting part of the story,” said Hummel.

Partnering with the non-profit Northwest Shipwreck Alliance, a condition of their salvaging rights is that a museum must be created to display artifacts from the SS Pacific. Hummel says he wants to open that museum near to Puget Sound.

Divers will begin the process in fall 2023.

Oli HerreraOli Herrera

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