South Korean Shipwreck "Discovery" Ignites Controversy And Confusion

A screen capture from footage of the wreck, taken by the enigmatic, nascent Shinil Group. Group Shinil via YouTube

We probably like shipwrecks for the same reason the media leaps on to any whiff of a story about supervolcanoes: because they sound mysterious and often leave room for more mischievous editorial peons to speculate furiously about what’s going on. As a new shipwreck tale is somewhat reminding us all, though, it’s often best not to believe the hype.

Reports suggest that a Russian warship – one that sunk 113 years ago – has been found offshore from Ulleungdo, an eastern South Korean island, by a salvage company. It’s been suggested that it’s carrying a vast amount of gold, so naturally there’s a bit of a battle on everyone’s hands as they try to work out who “owns” the wreck.

The company that found the warship, the Seoul-based, newly established Shinil Group, have released video and imagery taken by their search submarines, which appear to show a wreck with a Russian insignia.

It’s claimed to be the sizable, heavily armored cruiser, the Dmitrii Donskoi, which ABC News notes sunk during the 1904-5 Russo-Japanese war. Not only that, but the gold the team suspect may be inside has been speculated to be worth $130-180 billion.

At this point, nothing has been independently verified. Even if it turns out to be the lost warship, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s packed with gold. When you think about it, whenever such grandiose claims are made, they are rarely verified, even if the shipwreck is what’s been reported at the time – so for now, don’t hold your breath. Skepticism is recommended until proved otherwise.

Indeed, Reuters reported yesterday that the find has already been met with skepticism from experts, and controversy from the government of South Korea, who told local media that the wreck had already been discovered back in 2003. Another company – bizarrely, a construction outlet – has also declared that they found the wreck in 2001, but failed to lift it from the seafloor.

Already, people have spotted photographs of the wreck taken by the state-run Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology dating back to 2007. Even stranger still, it appears that there is more than one Shinil Group, with the second linking the find to a cryptocurrency exchange.

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Something clearly seems suspect, which is why all eyes will be on the team that just “found” the wreck as they present promised evidence to the world in the coming days. If the wreck is indeed validated in some way or another, then discussions will take place over who can legally lay claim to it.

Already, Russian experts are calling shotgun, citing international maritime law, while also dismissing the notion that there’s any gold on board. Why, they say, would so much gold be put at risk on a single ship during a time of conflict?

Watch this space.

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