A Russian shipwreck containing more than $133bn worth of gold has been discovered off the coast of South Korea over a century after it sank.
The wreckage of the Dmitrii Donskoi, a Russian warship built in 1893, was scuttled (deliberately sunk) after a naval battle during the Japanese-Russian war in 1905 to prevent the ship’s precious cargo falling into the hands of the Japanese.
Divers from the Shinil Group, a salvage group, discovered the vessel on Saturday, reports the Daily Mail, at a depth of approximately 1,400 ft just off the coast of the South Korean island of Ulleungdo, which lies east of the Korean mainland.
The group believe the ship could contain 200 tons of gold, which would be worth around $133.4 billion (£102bn) in today’s prices. It is believed the ship was carrying the entire supply of gold for the whole of the Russians’ Second Pacific Squadron.
The Donskoi had spent most of its life in the Mediterranean before being sent to serve in the war in 1904 after much of Russia’s Far Eastern forces were destroyed by Japan.
In May 1905, it was escorting a convoy of Russian transport vessels from the rear when it was set upon by a far superior Japanese fleet in the Battle of Tsushima.
Just three Japanese ships were sunk with 117 lives lost, while the Russians lost 21 of their 38 ships as well as 4,500 lives.
The Donskoi was damaged but managed to flee after the battle in the direction of the eastern Russian port of Vladivostok, but was intercepted again by the Japanese who opened fire on the ship, killing 60 and wounding 120, including the ship’s captain, Ivan Lebedev.
Lebedev ordered his remaining crew to drop anchor and climb ashore onto the island of Ulleungdo, before scuttling the ship the following day. They were later captured by the Japanese and Lebedev died of his wounds.
Because of previously false claims about discoveries of the Donskoi, the Shinil Group have said they will bring ashore some of Lebedev’s personal items to prove their discovery.
And since the discovery of the long-sought after ship, Yaroslav Livanskiy, of catchily-titled Russian campaign group ‘Russian Public Movement to Commemorate Those Who Died Defending the Motherland’, says the fortune should be returned to Moscow.
He said: “The cruiser is a priceless find for Russia, an invaluable relic, a symbol of our heroic and tragic past, a part of military history of Russia.
“Therefore whatever was discovered on board of the cruiser is inseparable from the overall value of the find.”
The Shinil Group have pledged to donate 10 percent of their find to developing the island of Ulleungdo, which is largely uninhabited but a tourist hotspot for South Korea.
They have also said a further 10 percent will be gifted towards Russia as the owners of the ship, which could fund projects such as an international railway between Russia and South Korea via North Korea.