TOKYO -- Japanese treasure hunters said Wednesday they would complete raising $3.8 billion in gold and platinum treasure from the sunken Czarist warship Admiral Nakhimov claimed by Soviet Russia in the next few days.
If the full cache is confirmed, the treasure would exceed by almost 100 times the $40 million record cited by the Guiness Book of Records for recovery of undersea treasure. The previous record was taken from the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de Concepcion off the Dominican Republic in 1978.
Sources close to the Tokyo-based organizers of the operation, Nihon Maritime Development Co., said 'more than 10 platinum-looking ingots' already had been salvaged in one dive to the wreck. The company last month said it pulled out a single 22-pound platinum ingot worth $154,000.
Japanese business tycoon Ryoichi Sasagawa, who financed the $15 million hunt forthe ship which sank three quarters of a century ago, said 16 additional ingots were lifted in a second dive, but he did not say what they were made of.
The company said divers would search the ship thoroughly in the next few days and retrieve the rest of the cache. Divers have confirmed at least 30 more ingots are lodged in the 8,524-ton warship, Nihon said.
The vessel is 200 feet below the surface five miles off the Japanese island of Tsushima in the Korean Strait.
The cruiser sank during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905 and it was believed to have been a 'floating bank' used by Czar Nicholas II during the disasterous naval campaign.
Officials said it carried 16 platinum bars, 48 gold bars and about 5,000 pounds of British gold coins.
The treasure's current market value is $3.8 billion, Nihon said.
The Soviet Union claims it is the owner of the ship but Sasagawa has said he would consider returning it only if Moscow returned four Russian-held North Pacific islands claimed by Japan.
Foreign Ministry officials said the basis of Moscow's claim was weak but maintained Sasagawa could claim the ship only after it had been proved that neither Japan nor the Soviet Union owned it.
Nihon officials said they would reveal their new finds at a news conference Saturday on Iki Island in western Japan, near the exploration site.
Past attempts to retrieve the Nakihimov treasure failed because of poor salvaging technology. Sasagawa reportedly spent $15 million to acquire a sophisticated deep-sea research craft for the operation.