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Vancouver team finds Russian ship Dmitrii Donskoi, sunk in 1905 battle – and possibly filled with gold

More than a century after sinking off the coast of South Korea, a Russian naval ship that could hold a treasure worth billions has been discovered with the help of a Canadian team.

The Dmitrii Donskoi went down in the spring of 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War, fuelling rumours about the gold bullion and coins believed to have gone down with it.

North Vancouver’s Nuytco Research Ltd. supplied technology and two manned submersibles for the search. Owner Phil Nuytten said his team found the ship 500 metres below the surface on Tuesday, just two days after they began to search a site off the island of Ulleungdo identified by South Korean, British and Canadian researchers.

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“We were able to identify it almost immediately,” Mr. Nuytten said.

The Donskoi was “basically obliterated” during the Battle of Tsushima, and the Russians’ defeat signalled Japan was on par with a major military power, University of Guelph historian David Schimmelpenninck said. “It came as a complete shock to the world.”

The Russians scuttled their vessel, sparking suggestions they did so to stop the Japanese from seizing the cargo – reportedly 5,500 boxes containing gold bars, and a separate 200 tons of gold coins.

It’s not clear yet, however, whether there is a fortune to be found.

Alexei Kojevnikov, a history professor at the University of British Columbia, said he is skeptical, as ships going into major battle have no reason to carry any gold. "It’s completely unreasonable,” he said.

Even Mr. Nuytten said he’s not sure what to think. “We have no idea whether it’s true or not,” Mr. Nuytten said. “We won’t know until we start bringing up parts of the wreck.”

He said the ship was “in remarkably good condition” considering the time it’s been beneath the sea. The steering wheel and ironclad sides were mostly untouched. Parts of the ship were broken as a result of the damage it suffered in battle, but a key identifiable feature – the name Donskoi written in metal letters on the stern – was intact.

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The dive team will continue to survey the wreckage for the next few weeks before beginning the salvage operation. Mr. Nuytten said the process would take at least a month; the ship will be brought to the surface piece by piece.

Seoul-based Shinil Group, which has led and funded the search effort, said in a statement that it plans to raise the ship in October or November. The group estimates that the gold that reportedly went down with the Donskoi is worth $170-billion. Half of any treasure found will be given to the Russian government, and 10 per cent of the remainder will be invested in tourism projects on Ulleungdo Island and a museum dedicated to the vessel, it said.

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