Negotiations are currently underway to salvage cargo from the wreck of the Westmoreland, which sank in Lake Michigan in the mid-19th century. However, rescue efforts can take years or even decades, according to the Express .
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Seventeen people died when, during a storm on December 7, 1854, the Westmoreland, bound for Mackinac Island, sank to the bottom of Lake Michigan. Only a few passengers managed to get ashore, where a journey of more than 60 km to the nearest city awaited.
Thought to have been lost for more than 150 years, the location of the ship, about 55 meters below the waters of Platte Bay, was finally located by diver Ross Richardson in 2010 after a decade of research.
The Westmoreland stands upright at the bottom of the lake, and can be recognized by the “bully” arches that run along both sides of the ship. While salvaging artifacts from wrecks in the Great Lakes without a permit is prohibited, negotiations are underway to salvage the Westmoreland’s cargo.
Richardson said: “We are in the early stages of discussing a salvage operation to recover whiskey barrels and possibly other artifacts. Westmoreland is an underwater museum filled with beautifully preserved relics from the 1850s, and saving them for public display was This is one of the most intact and best preserved 1850s shipwrecks on the planet.”
The ship was carrying 280 barrels of whiskey and other winter supplies for soldiers stationed at the fort on Mackinac Island.
The fort on Mackinac Island was of strategic importance due to its location overlooking the confluence of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.
It is believed that the gold transported by Westmorland – like ingots with a double-headed eagle – could be intended to pay the garrison.
“It made life very difficult for the military when supplies didn’t arrive,” said diver Chris Roxburgh, who photographed the wreck.
He added: “The gold coins would be worth about a million dollars if we melted them down and sold them. Their real value is the numismatic value of these coins, which today could realistically be over $20 million.”
Despite the stunning value of the gold coins, the salvage operation planned by the divers will focus on whiskey, as Richardson said, “the regional distillery is very interested in rescuing whiskey casks for testing and sale.”
He added: “The place where the Westmoreland sank was not flat and smooth, like most of the bottom of Lake Michigan. It was full of underwater sand dunes and rocks, which made the initial search very difficult.”
Because of this location, rescuing the ship is likely to be as difficult as finding it.
In the words of Chris Roxburgh: “This is a difficult dive as there is no rope or buoy on the ship, and the depth is almost 55 meters. The water temperature was icy. Gold and whiskey are deeper, in the hold or cabins. The deck is partially destroyed, so it is difficult to dive deep “.
With all that, Mr. Richardson is optimistic that the lost treasures of the sunken ship will see the light again.