In late September, 1939, the German cargo ship Minden set sail on what would be her last voyage. Less than a week later, the ship was spotted by elements of the British Royal Navy. In an effort to make sure her valuable cargo was not seized by the enemy, the Minden’s crew decided to scuttle the ship on September, 24 1939 off the coast of Iceland.
To many that would have been the end of the story, but this week deep sea explorers announced that they have located the ship and are planning a salvage operation on it. Probably because it is believed that the cargo ship was sailing with a huge trove of Nazi gold on board her at the time of her sinking.
The Minden appears to be located 120 nautical miles south of Iceland, and came into the international spotlight after it was initially reported searchers had discovered a chest containing up to four tons of Nazi gold on the wreck. The horde is valued at 100 million British pounds (approximately $130 million), according to news reports. Now, the United Kingdom salvage company, Advanced Marine Services (AMS), has reportedly requested permission from Icelandic authorities to cut a hole in the ship’s hull and remove the chest.
A spokesman for the Icelandic Environmental Agency acknowledged an application has been received. However, it could be some weeks before a decision is made on whether permission will be given, and if so, under which terms. An update may be issued next month, he added.
In April the vessel, Seabed Constructor, which had been hired by AMS to search for the Minden, was ordered to dock at Reykjavik after it was spotted by Iceland’s Coast Guard conducting operations. The company’s lawyer reportedly told the Coast Guard that the crew of the Seabed Constructor was looking for the Minden. A representative for the company confirmed that Seabed Constructor was requested into Reykjavik on April 8.
“The company co-operated fully with the Icelandic Coast Guard and, having clarified its legitimate activity, was quickly able to return to sea,” he explained. “AMS complies fully with international maritime law and has at no time conducted any activity without the requisite permits.”
Because the Minden’s resting place is outside Iceland’s territorial waters, the government cannot make any claim on any recovered treasure. But the vessel does rest inside the countries 200 mile wide exclusive economic zone. As a result, Icelandic authorities can enforce pollution controls and environmental impact measures at the shipwreck site during any recovery.
At the time her crew scuttled her, the Minden was returning to Germany from South America. The hunt for Nazi gold continues to be an ongoing enterprise 75 years after the war. Recently, there have been renewed efforts to locate a rumored treasure-laden Nazi train that is supposed to be buried somewhere in the Warsaw area of Poland.