Wreck of the Pollux

The Wreck of the Pollux is a true treasure at the bottom of the sea, the treasure of the Island of Elba. Emeralds, diamonds, jewels, watches, thousands of gold and silver coins. A true treasure hidden in the depths of the Tuscan Archipelago. A treasure of inestimable value: almost 350 million euros, experts hypothesize. On the night of June 17, 1841, the steamship Polluce sank off the coast of the island of Elba, rammed by another ship, taking with it a mysterious load of precious coins and jewels. Probably due to an attempted boarding to steal the precious cargo it was carrying.

The steamship Pollux built in 1839 by the Normand shipyard in Le Havre and purchased by the De Luchi-Rubattino shipping company founded in 1838, together with the sister ship Castore . He owned a steam engine built in England; it produced a power of 160 HP which moved the two side paddle wheels capable of making the ship reach a speed of 10 knots. The transfer to the port of Genoa was made on April 13, 1841 and from here began its regular line Marseille – Genoa – Livorno – Civitavecchia – Naples.

The ramming of the Pollux

At 11.45 pm on 17 June 1841 the Pollux was rammed by the steamship Mongibello , near the island of Elba about 2.9 km from Capo Calvo. The Neapolitan ship Mongibello , then Monzambano , the first Italian hydrographic vessel after national unity; with this sinking he found himself at the center of a story as mysterious as it is fascinating with possible political implications of considerable historical importance.

The people aboard the Pollux, about 80 passengers and crew, managed to escape. The modalities of the accident lead us to suspect that the ramming by the Neapolitan ship was voluntary, and recent historical research led to think that the Pollux had something on board that should not have reached Genoa, perhaps it helps financial statements provided by the British to Italian patriots.

Rubattino (1810-1881), assisted by the lawyer Guerrazzi, a patriot from Livorno, filed a lawsuit against the Neapolitans, and also won the trial, which took place in Livorno in 1842, but was never compensated, just as the passengers were not compensated, because the ship was not insured and the law of the time did not provide for such accidents at sea.

At the time an attempt was made to recover the wreck of the Pollux

The owner Rubattino, two months later, desperately tried to recover the wreck of the Pollux and the cargo, a daring undertaking for the times. He had the wreck tied with chains and began to be pulled up with 11 ships, but the attempt failed due to the breaking of a chain.

The details of the failed recovery are known thanks to a 48-page booklet, published just a week after the failed attempt in November 1841 by Cesare de Laugier, a Napoleonic colonel born in Elba. Subsequently, a company from Livorno tried to locate the wreck without success, as did the Ministry of War in Paris. In the 1920s the mayor of the island of Elba, Bertolini, repeatedly tried to locate him. Only in 1936 did So.Ri.Ma. (Società Ricuperi Marittimi) of Genoa (founded in 1926 by Commendatore Giovanni Quaglia, precursor of all naval recovery activities and modern deep-sea underwater operations, with three ships: Artiglio, Rostro, Arpione to which followed by Raffio, Rampino, Rastrello), who probably located the wreck, but had to abandon the checks due to urgent work in Sardinia. When the So.ri.ma divers left the bay of Porto Azzurro del Polluce only the legend remained.

How the British arrived at the Pollux wreck

The records of the Livorno trial on the sinking of the Pollux remained unknown until, it is not known how, they were found and copied by a Frenchman, who would have sold them to an English company. In 2000 by the British through the British consulate in Florence asking for permission to recover the aluminum cargo of Glenlogan , an English ship sunk in 1916 by a German U-boat, which lies in the depths of Stromboli, but by entering the coordinates of the wreck of the Pollux . Nobody noticed during the bureaucratic process of this insertion, giving him the authorization. After renting a tugboat in Genoa, on which a crane was installed, the recovery operations began, picking up at least three tons of debris at random with the bucket, sifting the material in search of precious.

The British leave with the booty

After 21 days, the English group left with the loot, later valued at around one and a half million euros (gold and silver coins, early 19th century jewelry, tableware, crystals and watches). To the Italian Port Authority they did not declare that they had found the wreck of the Pollux, but that they had found the British ship they were looking for, and that they had recovered a few precious items and some material. The version supplied to the English authorities is different, to which they claimed to have found a lot of material, but on a ship sunk in international waters (a circumstance that guarantees the ownership of the recovery in the event that no one claims rights).

Following an investigation carried out by the Carabinieri for the Protection of Cultural Heritage in Florence, on 10 October 2002, Scotland Yard delivered what they had seized on 17 June 2001 at the London auction house Dix Noonan Webb. The act of vandalism carried out by these treasure hunters has seriously compromised the integrity of the wreck, but most of all, almost all of the gold coins are missing. This episode caused the loss of a large asset that certainly circulates on the black market, but even greater is the historical loss suffered.

What is left of the wreck of the Pollux

As for what remains in the wreck of the Polluxin the Elban waters; in 2004 the recovery of what still lay on the sea was studied by the HDS of the Marine Consulting company of Ravenna and Capmar Studios who sponsored the operation, in collaboration and coordination with the Ministry of Cultural Heritage, of the Superintendency of Cultural Heritage of Tuscany and the Municipality of Porto Azzurro. In October 2005, a major recovery of the precious cargo was finally carried out, the first intervention in the world carried out with modern saturation diving technologies. During the recovery, blocks of coins emerged in perfect condition, wrapped in lead containers. Several thousand Spanish silver “colonnades”, many dozens of gold 20 French franc coins, scraps of planking with copper nails stuck in it and a few pieces of coal. In addition to the coins, objects of common use were recovered which, once cleaned and packaged, will be delivered to the competent authorities.

The intervention of the Italian Navy

In 2014 thanks to the intervention of the ship Anteo (photo) and the Underwater Operational Group (GOS) of the Underwater Command and Incursors (CONSUBIN), have been recovered other coins, which are added to the other hundred unearthed from the Antaeus ship and its divers in the previous missions of 2007 and 2008. The discovery was made possible thanks to the use of the new ROV (Remoted Operative Vehicle) PEGASO, supplied to COMSUBIN, a sophisticated robotic system equipped with powerful manipulator arms, high-definition cameras and latest generation sonar, which can reach a depth of 2,000 meters.

The wreck of the Pollux , with its cargo largely looted, is the only submerged treasure found in Italian national waters.


The treasure of the Pollux

The Navy, during the recovery of part of the treasure from the wreck of the Pollux on the Island of Elba.

360° View

360 ° view of the Capoliveri Museum of the sea and the finds at the wreck of the Pollux

The Pollux Steamer

Builder: Normand Le Havre Shipyard (France)
Launch: 1839
Displacement: 177.56 tons.
Dimensions: length 40, and m; width 7.25 m; Draft 3.33 m
Speed: 10 knots
Passengers: 90 people
Sunk on June 17, 1841