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Identity of Finnish shipwreck millionaire remains a mystery

Ninety years ago, an autumnal storm capsized the Kantava steamboat, sending its payload of 290 metric tonnes of copper to the bottom of the Baltic Sea. The current market value of the copper is estimated at one million euros, but there are still no clues as to who might be the rightful owner.

Sukelluskuvaa hylystä.
Meriarkeologiaa harrastava sukeltajaryhmä on vakuuttunut, että Ahvenanmaan edustalta löytynyt hylky on vuonna 1925 myrskyssä uponnut höyrylotja s/s Kantava. Image: Loxus Technologies

Around a week ago, a group of divers completed their investigation of the wreck of a ninety-year-old steamship laden with copper. The vessel was discovered off the Lågskär Island in the Åland archipelago in 2013.

Named the Kantava, the steamboat sank to the bottom of the Baltic Sea near the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia, between Finland and Sweden.

Åland's Maritime archaeologist Marcus Lindholm says he is confident he has established that the vessel is the Kantava, due to its location, make and fittings. According to the ship’s papers, one of the owners around the year 1925 was a certain Juho Kaskinen, a farmer, MP and municipal council advisor.  According to Lindholm, Kaskinen’s descendents can still claim ownership of the vessel.

However, the more pressing question is: to whom does the nearly one million euros in copper rightfully belong?

The plot thickens...

The laws on such issues are more complicated than a simple case of finders keepers.

 Although it may be possible to identify the boat's rightful owners, that does not necessarily mean that they also have a legal right to its contents. The Finnish state cannot claim the bounty, as it has been less than one hundred years since the vessel sank, therefore the wreck is not considered a protected site.

Adding to the intrigue, it is highly possible that up to ten kilogrammes of gold is mixed in with the copper. Miners during this era didn't have the ability to extract the precious metal, so it likely the gold is still buried within the less valuable metal.

Mikko Simola led the diving team that found the wreck.

“That’s why we made our find public. We wanted to establish who the wreck’s owner was. We don’t own it. We just wanted to give the coordinates to the owner, who could decide what to do with the ship and its cargo. It is very valuable,” said Simola.

A well organised quest

Simola says his group was inspired by a book, Suomen rannikon aarrelaivat (Treasure ships off the Finnish coast), that allowed them to estimate where the ship could likely be found.

After submitting all of the necessary paperwork and making the proper calculations and preparations, the team set off. Behind their boat, they pulled a side scan sonar that drew an exact picture of the sea floor. Soon enough, they had found their mark. The dives that followed extended to 90 metres. 

“It was surprisingly easy to find. We corked a champagne bottle on the shore to celebrate our technical prowess,” Simola said.

Now, after two years of research, his team is preparing to plumb new depths in search of more treasure.

“It’s a wonder that a ship like that had managed to remain a secret; that no one found it. On the other hand, it was in a difficult location and we had excellent equipment, a good team and we had done our homework. Maybe other groups are satisfied with easier targets.”

The investigation team has not yet found documents that would point towards the rightful owners of the ship’s cargo, meaning one million euros in gold and copper is still up for grabs.

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