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Guarding Gold at Sea, Steamships Transport Precious Cargo

How Ocean Liners Carry Precious Metals in Absolute Safety

The natural assumption would be that in the safeguarding of the treasure which the various countries are constantly sending one another by the big ocean liners, there would be required the vigilance of many men.  This, however, is not generally the case, since once the gold is stored away in the rooms set apart for that purpose on the big ships and the vessel is well out to sea, no armed guards are necessary.

Taking the specific case of one liner sailing under the British flag, says the New York Press, we find that it has two strong rooms, the smaller of the two being in close proximity to the captain's office.  This one compartment has no doubt sheltered gold enough to pay the cost of the liner many times over.

The walls, the roof and the ceiling are lined with two-inch steel plate, and the room contains nothing in the way of fixtures save shelving.  The locks, which are  of the double variety, are rendered still more secure by steel hasps covering the keyholes, and they are provided with massive padlocks.

The strong room, being in the most frequented portion of the vessel, where persons are passing them at all hours of the day and night, thus receive the best protection after all.  There are two sets of keys, one which is retained by the agent in charge of the consignment of gold and the other of which remains with the captain.

In the case of the British vessel mentioned, there is another and larger specie room, situated next to the provision department.  This is almost twelve feet in length by four in width.  It frequently happens that both strong rooms are filled to their utmost capacity, and on one occasion this liner carried some $50,000,000 in gold bullion, packed in small kegs bound with steel hoops.

Gold usually is brought to the vessel on which it is to be shipped the day before the date of sailing, and it is stored away carefully before passengers embark.  It arrives at the pier in ordinary trucks, under the guard of armed men.

The customary method of getting the gold on board is to haul the kegs up an inclined chute to the deck by means of a hoisting engine, but this method is not followed invariably.  Sometimes each keg is placed in a sling and carried on board by men detailed for this service.

The receipt given by the steamship company sets forth that so many kegs have been received for shipment, not for any stated amount of gold to the value of so much.  The kegs bear the government seal in many instances, and in such cases, when they have been safely put in the strong room, the iron doors thereof are sealed with government wax, the impression being broken only when the official on the other side comes to receive the gold.

The kegs are checked thrice -- when they are taken from the trucks, when they reach the gangway and when they are placed in the strong room.

Although no armed guard stands by the strong room, two men watch the room constantly so long as the ship is in sight of land.  As a matter of fact, there is little danger of any one stealing gold in transit on a ship. It would be necessary that he should shoulder a keg weighing some two hundred pounds and vanish with it without being seen.  Masters of vessels declare gold is the safest cargo of any to handle.

The total weight of one consignment of gold shipped by the British vessel in question amounted to something line 30,000 pounds, or sixteen tons, and the freight charges amounted to $12,000, or, roughly speaking, one-eighth of 1 percent.  Precious metals thus ships insured at its full value.

-- Express Gazette

The Railway Conductor, Volume 29, Number Nine, September 1912, Pp. 650-651

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