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Divers recover treasure from Argentina shipwreck

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Divers have concluded a mission to retrieve 9.5 tons of unrefined gold and silver worth nearly $22 million from a shipwreck off southern Argentina.

A border police officer on duty in the city of Rio Gallegos confirmed to The Associated Press that the effort to recover the Polar Mist's valuable cargo ended Sunday.

The refitted Chilean fishing trawler sank Jan. 18, two days after its eight-person crew sent out a distress call during a violent storm. They were rescued by helicopter, but the vessel went down while being towed toward shore near the Straits of Magellan.

The boat sank 25 miles (40 kilometers) from land and came to rest in waters about 260 feet (80 meters) deep.

The border police officer spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to be quoted by name. His agency is involved in the recovery effort, though he was unable to say how much of the treasure was recovered.

Jorge Palmes — president of Cerro Vanguardia SA, the Argentine owner of the mine where the gold was extracted — said seven bars of metal remained on the ocean floor.

"I'm told a basket fell when they were raising (the bars), and they were lost," Palmes was quoted as saying by the daily newspaper Clarin.

Some 20 vessels and a robot submarine took part in the search, which lasted several weeks due to stormy weather during the Southern Hemisphere's winter season.

The mission was financed by Lloyds of London, the insurer of the cargo.

Argentine news media and maritime experts had questioned whether precious metals were aboard at all.

They asked why the crew members ditched the craft when it would have been safer to stay aboard, why they left the engine on full so the ship was left spinning in circles and why a trawler built in 1979 was being used to transport gold and silver in the first place.