On 15 April 2005, the Associated Press ran the following article:


TOKYO (AP) - The I-52 is the stuff of shipwreck legend.

Possibly the most advanced submarine in the world at the time, the Japanese I-52 was sunk in the Atlantic on June 23, 1944, while en route to a rendezvous with a German U-boat.

Just why remains a mystery.

It was laden with two tons of gold and two tons of opium, probably for conversion into morphine painkillers. But was it also carrying a secret offer of peace?

Paul Tidwell, an American shipwreck salvager, said Friday he is planning an expedition within a year _ most likely in November or May 2006 _ to raise the I-52 from the seabed, and perhaps even return the submarine to Japan. He didn't know how much the operation would cost.

"We want to return all the human remains to the Japanese families,'' he said. "We have the full support of the Japanese government.''

Tidwell uncovered the story of the submarine, which carried 112 passengers and crew, in a search of declassified documents in Washington, D.C., in 1990.

"I knew I-52 was special, I knew there was gold on it,'' he said. "I was driven to find out everything possible about the submarine and what her mission was.''

Because of the dangers to surface ships, Tidwell said, submarines were used to carry high-priority officials, messages and cargo between Germany and Japan. At 108 meters (356 feet) long, I-52 was the biggest submarine ever built at that time.

"It was a marvel of technology,'' he said.

Tidwell said he believes the submarine was on a mission of such extreme importance that the Allied powers took exceptional pains to make sure it was sunk before it reached the coast of France.

They succeeded: It was sunk by a combination of depth bombs and acoustic torpedoes off Cape Verde and Barbados.

"It's 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) from the nearest land,'' he said.

Tidwell initially thought the sub might have been carrying information on atomic bomb research. Some historians now believe officials aboard the sub may have had an offer of peace that they were hoping to coordinate with the Germans. Japan surrendered in August 1945.

The salvage effort may clear up such speculation.

"Because of the depth, paper is preserved,'' he said. It is resting on the ocean bed some 5,500 meters (17,000 feet) deep, he said.

Tidwell has conducted two expeditions to the site _ the first discovered its location in 1995, and he led a return trip to film it in 1999.

"Our budget had been cut back, so we didn't have the equipment to cut into the sub to get the gold,'' he said. The mission did recover some shoes and clothes, containers of opium and ingots of tin.

Tidwell said he expects the salvage operation to take about 30 days, and then another two weeks would be needed to transport the sub to the United States before it is eventually returned to Japan.

He said the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency wants to put two agents on the salvage ship because of the opium stash.

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