The wreckage of a Russian Battle Ship sunk 113 years ago has been discovered by a South Korean salvage team; the ship has been discovered to contain a trove of gold bullion and coins worth £100 billion. The Russian Imperial Navy cruiser Dmitrii Donskoi was discovered at a depth of more than 1,400 feet about one mile off the South Korean island of Ulleungdo.
The sunken battle ship was discovered by a joint team made up of experts from South Korea, Britain and Canada on Sunday using two manned submersibles to capture footage of the vessel.
The company who sponsored the discovery of the wreckage has however promised, to use a percentage of the money to fund the construction of a railway line linking Russia and South Korea through North Korea.
The footage captured by the submersibles revealed extensive damage to the vessel which was most likely caused by the vessel’s encounter with Japanese warships in May 1905, along with cannons and deck guns encrusted with marine growth, the anchor and the ship’s wheel.
A representative of the company that sponsored the discovery Shinil Group based in Seoul said,
“The body of the ship was severely damaged by shelling, with its stern almost broken, and yet the ship’s deck and sides are well preserved”,
The discovered battleship was launched in St Petersburg in August 1883, and christened the Dmitrii Donskoi. It was initially designed to be commercial raider and fitted with both a full set of sails and a coal-fired engine (the greatest invention at the time).
The ship spent most of its career operating in the Mediterranean and the Far East and was deployed to Imperial Russia’s Second Pacific Squadron after the Japanese fleet destroyed the majority of Russia’s naval power in the Far East in the opening salvoes of the 1904 Russo-Japanese War. The Ship was sunk during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.
The squadron it was assigned to protect was intercepted by the Japanese fleet in May of 1905 and decimated at the Battle of Tsushima. Although the Dmitrii Donskoi managed to evade the attacking force, it was later intercepted as it raced for the Russian Port of Vladivostok and destroyed by the crew to prevent the Japanese from laying hands on the treasures inside.
About 60 of the 591 crew members of the Imperial Navy Cruiser were killed in the battle with 120 men sustaining injuries. The ship was then anchored off the island of Ulleungdo where the ship was scuttled and the remaining crew were taken prisoner by Japanese landing parties; the captain of the ship Ivan Lebedev died shortly after of battle wounds.
There are reports that the Dmitrii Donskoi was carrying the fleet’s funds and went down with 5,500 boxes containing gold bars as well as a separate haul of 200 tons of gold coins. The gold was being stored in the ship’s holds to stop the Japanese seizing it. Shinil Group estimates the gold would have a total value today of £101.3 billion.
While the company has confirmed that it plans to raise the ship in October or November, it promised to hand over half of the treasures found onboard to the Russian Government while ten percent of the remaining half will be used for tourism projects on Ulleungdo Island where the vessel was scuttled; the company is planning to build a museum dedicated to the vessel on the island.
The defeat of the Imperial Russian Navy by the Island Nation of Japan was received with shock across the western World. It marked the first time a western power had been defeated by an Asian country at sea. This Japanese victory changed the course of World War One which brought about the end of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires.