Company wins right to salvage historic ship

Posted: Monday, March 13, 2000

JUNEAU -- After a long legal battle, a salvage company plans to seek gold and artifacts from a Gold Rush-era ship that sank 30 miles south of Alaska's capital.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided March 7 that Ocean Mar, operated by Theodore Jaynes, had salvage rights to the S.S. Islander.

The 240-foot-long ship was carrying miners from Skagway in 1901 when it hit a rock or iceberg and sank. The ship went down with 39 people, and possibly more than 30,000 pounds of gold.

Since 1996, Ocean Mar and another deep-sea diving company, Yukon Recovery LLC, have battled in court over which was first to find the wreck.

In September 1998 an Anchorage judge gave Ocean Mar the salvage rights, based on evidence that the insurers Jaynes represented had apparently paid a Canadian bank for its gold loss. The court also found that Jaynes had been formally researching the Islander since 1993, two years before Yukon Recovery.

Yukon Recovery appealed the judge's decision, but lost again last week.

Now Jaynes is raising the $10 million to $20 million he needs for the salvage operation, which he plans to start this spring. Jaynes expects to spend two to three years salvaging the ship lodged on the sea floor about 320 to 340 feet deep.

''Maybe longer, because of all the artifacts,'' Jaynes told the Juneau Empire. Historical artifacts will be turned over to the state.

Jaynes said he is as interested in the history of the Islander as in the gold.

He has salvaged helicopters and container ships, but the Islander will be different.

''This is more colorful,'' Jaynes said. ''At times it may be more emotional, because we'll be touching people's lives.''

Part of the Islander was salvaged in 1934. Some who have researched its history have said they doubt any gold is in what remains on the ocean floor.

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