London - A treasure hunter claims to have located the wreck of a bombed British merchant ship containing platinum bars worth $3 billion, media reports said.
If the theory is right, the ship, which was torpedoed by the Germans in World War II, could be one of the richest sunken treasure troves ever discovered.
Greg Brooks, of Sub Sea Research in Gorham, Maine, this week announced the wreck, sitting in 700 feet of water 50 miles off Cape Cod, Massachusetts, is that of the S.S. Port Nicholson, Daily Mail reported Thursday.
He said he and his crew identified the ship, which was sunk in 1942, via the hull number using an underwater camera, and he hopes to begin raising the treasure later this month with the help of a remotely operated underwater vessel.
However, a lawyer for the British government has expressed doubt the vessel was carrying platinum. But if precious metals are on board, who owns the hoard could become a matter of international dispute, the newspaper said.
Brooks said the Port Nicholson was bound for New York with 71 tonnes of platinum - valued at the time at around $53 million - when it was sunk in an attack that left six people dead.
The platinum was a payment from the Soviet Union to the US for war supplies, Brooks said, adding that the vessel was also carrying gold bullion and diamonds.
Treasure hunter Brooks claims to have located the wreck in 2008 using shipboard sonar but held off announcing the find while he and his business partners obtained salvage rights from a federal judge.
Salvage rights are not the same as ownership rights, which are still unsettled.
The Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences said they were not aware of the hoard but confirmed the Soviet government often used precious metals and minerals as payment during WWII, reports RIA Novosti.
The US government has not weighed in on the court case yet, and Brooks said he doubts that will happen, since the Soviets eventually reimbursed Washington for the lost payment.