Wartime treasure raised from mud of Yellow Sea

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Wartime treasure raised from mud of Yellow Sea


BORYEONG — About 3.3 tons of foreign coins have been found in a sunken Japanese ship buried in the muddy seabed of the Yellow Sea near Gunsan, North Jeolla, by an excavation company that claims it is treasureladen, bombed by the U.S. Air Force during World War II.

The company is still digging in hopes of finding gold bullion.

“When our divers discovered the deck of the sunken ship, we found the old coins piled in rotting wooden boxes on the deck,” said Pyun Do-young, owner of underwater excavation company Sea Love Co. Ltd., which is based in Boryeong, South Chungcheong, in an interview with the Korea JoongAng Daily on June 2. “Most of the sunken ship was submerged in mud and some of the coins were stuck in the mud.”

“In February, we started searching for treasure-laden ships sunk by U.S. forces during World War II and finally found one,” Pyun said. “Although we haven’t still found any gold bars, we are sure we will find them after removing [the thick layers of] mud covering the ship.”


Most of the 1 million coins are Chinese, made of nickel and minted between 1920 and 1930, Pyun said.

“If the coins are genuine, they will be worth as much as silver the time, because currencies were very unique in the early 1920s in China,” Sin Ju-baek, professor of Yonsei University Institute for Korean Studies, said in a telephone interview. “Lots of people have tried to steal and melt these kinds of coins and use them for other purposes.”

The recovered coins are being temporarily stored in the government-run Gunsan Regional Maritime Affairs and Port Office to allow time for the owner of the sunken ship to claim his possessions. “Unless the owner of the ship appears, 80 percent of the coins belong to the company that found them and 20 percent go to the Korean government,” said Song Hyunkyoung, an official at the office.

“We haven’t officially asked a currency expert to appraise the coins, so we don’t know exactly how much the coins are worth,” said Shin Hyun-tag, vice president of Sea Love. “But we expect they would be about 5 billion won [$4.6 million], based on the current online Chinese currency markets.”

Although they found the old coins, Pyun said the excavation company’s ultimate goal is finding gold bars hidden in the sunken ship.

They believe the ship they found is the Nishima Maru No. 10, a 253- ton private Japanese wooden freighter, 30 meters(98 feet) long and 7.8 meters wide, according to a Japanese historic record titled, “The History of Ships during War,” written in 1991.

“Before the end of World War II, some high-ranking Japanese government officials who predicted Japan’s loss in the war began to steal gold, cultural assets, jewelry and minerals from China and Southeast Asian countries and secretly shipped them in their private vessels, like the Nishima Maru,” Pyun said.

“But on their way to Japan, some Japanese ships that supposedly were carrying treasure sank after being shelled by U.S. forces flying along the west coast of Korea near Gunsan.”

Pyun showed an English document written by U.S. historian Robert J. Cressman titled “The Official Chronology of the U.S. Navy in World War II,” which is available online at ibiblio. org. The records state that on July 2, 1945: “USN land-based planes sank Japanese sailing vessel Nishima Maru off Gunzan, on the west coast of Korea, 35°50’N, 126°30’E, and cargo ship No. 12 Shima Maru at 35°43’N, 126°32’E.”

“There are some U.S. historic records saying a series of Japanese ships were raided by the U.S. Air Force in the sea off the Korean Peninsula,” Kim Young-koo, head of the Ryeo Hae Institute and former head of the Korea Maritime University Maritime Museum, said in a telephone interview.

Pyun believes the Nishima Maru will probably contain 10 tons of gold bars worth more than 500 billion won. He says the gold is part of the so-called “Yamashita’s Treasure,” the alleged war loot Japanese forces under Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita supposedly stole in Southeast Asia during World War II.

Pyun said they will look until August to determine whether the ship is indeed the Nishima Maru and contains the legendary gold. “After the Nishima Maru project is finished, we will launch another project to find the Kowshing, a U.K.-owned 7.4-metertall freighter allegedly carrying about 1,220 Chinese soldiers and about 600 tons of silver and coins that was torpedoed by a Japanese navy ship during the Sino-Japanese War.,” Pyun said.

By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

한글 관련 기사 [연합]
군산 앞바다 '보물선 인양→발굴' 전환 검토

문화재청 '매장문화재법 의거 보호조치 강구'
문화재청은 24일 전북 군산 앞바다 해저 매장물 탐사과정에서 다량의 외국 주화가 발견된 것과 관련, "이 일대를 사적으로 가지정하고 단순 인양이 아닌 수중 고고학 발굴로 전환하는 방안을 적극 검토하겠다"고 말했다.

문화재청 엄승용 문화재정책국장은 이날 군산 앞바다에서 외국 주화가 수습됐다는 신고가 공식 접수됐다며 이같이 밝히고 "매장문화재법에 의거해 인양한 중국 등의 외국 주화가 문화재에 해당하는지를 면밀히 검토해 수중발굴 전환 여부를 조속히 결정하겠다"고 덧붙였다.

사적으로 가지정되면 현재 민간업체가 진행하는 인양작업은 중지되며 국립해양문화재연구소 등을 통한 수중발굴로 전환된다.

국내 한 보물선 탐사업체는 군산지방항만청과 군산시로부터 공유수면점용 사용허가와 매장물 발굴 승인을 받아 지난 2월부터 6개월 일정으로 군산 앞바다에서 일제강점기에 침몰한 일본 화물선의 금괴 찾기 작업을 벌이는 중이다.

이 업체는 1945년 7월께 금괴를 싣고 항해하다가 군산시 옥도면 선유도와 비안도 사이 북위 35도 동경 126도 해상에서 미군의 폭격으로 침몰한 일본 화물선 '시마마루 12호(253t 추정)를 찾고자 수중 탐사에 나서 최근 한 침몰 선박에서 3-4t에 이르는 중국 주화와 은화, 심지어 멕시코 등 외국화폐 등을 인양했다.
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