Mesa firm aids ship salvage

Raising Money For Historic Liner

The peddle wheeler Atlantic was so crowded as it crossed Lake Erie that some of its passengers, immigrants seeking a new life in the Midwest, were sleeping on the deck. About 600 people were aboard on that summer night in 1852 when the steamship, bound for Detroit from Buffalo, sank. Among them were families bringing all of their belongings from Europe to settle in Chicago or Wisconsin. The 265-foot-long Atlantic, just 4 years old, carried westbound passengers on this popular route twice a week. Shortly, after midnight on Aug. 20, a grain-laden freighter ran into the Atlantic. The liner sank quickly. About 300 people perished in the darkness. Others lost their only possessions as they narrowly escaped with their lives

Now, a company based in Mesa is involved in plans to raise the Atlantic preserved in mud at a depth of 180 feet. New World Explorations, Inc puts together investment groups for financing treasure-salvage projects. Marc Saulnier, its president, said New World also is backing projects that target Inca gold supposedly hidden in Ecuador and Spanish ships that sank off Florida in 1715.

Top prioirity, however, is raising $750,000 from a limited partnership of 10 to 20 investors to help fund salvage of the Atlantic in exchange for a share in what's recovered, he said. "There's a huge scientific and historical curiosity surrounding these things", Saulnier said. "It's not just greed and money."

Steven Morgan, a treasure hunter who located the Atlantic in 1989, said he has signed New World to help finance the salvage of the ship and its contents. The ship itself and key historical artifacts found with it will be the centerpiece of a museum within about three years, probably in the Lake Erie community of Dunkirk, N.Y., Morgan said. Other findings will be auctioned off, he added. Mar-Dive Corp, A San Pedro, California, companyheaded by Morgan has won a federal court ruling that support its claim to total ownership of the Atlantic and its contents, said Dale Beck Furnish, legal consultant to New World Exploration and a faculty member of Arizona State University's College of Law

Many salvage projects have to share their take with the government, but Morgan said he was able to avoid that by proving to the court's satisfaction that he had traced ownership of the Atlantic and bought it. He halso has made efforts to bring into this project any descendants of Atlantic passengers who might hav a claim to some of the goods on the ship. Canadian authorities currently are blocking the project. The ship sank on Canada's side of the border, although it was a US vessel traveling between two US ports. Furnish said he expects that dispute to be settled in Morgan's favor.

Modern archaelogical methods, under the oversight of a non-profit foundation, will be used to recover the ship and its contents, Morgan said. "The Atlantic is not just a shipwreck," Morgan said, "It is a historical record of the growth of a nation". He said capital from the partnership that New World Explorations is arranging will help keep the for-profit side of the operation going until sale of artifacts can begin. "Lawyers are not cheap, " he said.

Saulnier said he was a commodities trader when a salvage diver in Atlanta interested him in finding investors in 1986 for a project involving a Civil War-era wreck in the Alabama River. Since then, Saulnier has been involved with a project to find part of a treasure in Ecuador said to have been assembled to ransom a captured Inca king in 1532, but believed to be stashed in mountains after conquistador Francisco Pizarro ordered the captive killed. "The research phase is completed, but the Ecuadorean project is on hold until we get the Atlantic project done." Saulnier said.

Source: The Arizona Republic (Terry McDonnell, September 23rd, 1992)

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