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Restaurant Owner Relishes Search for Sunken Treasure

February 23, 1992|CHRISTINA V. GODBEY

What would it be like to go on a treasure hunt in the Arabian Sea? Just ask Jay Fiondella, owner of the landmark restaurant Chez Jay in Santa Monica.

Fiondella, who has traveled on a variety of treasure-hunting expeditions, had been interested in the 7,172-ton John Barry for quite some time. He wanted to salvage the liberty ship, which sank to a depth of 8,000 feet off the Omani coast after being torpedoed by a German U-boat in World War II.

He discussed the project with Capt. Brian Shoemaker, a retired Navy pilot and expert in recovering aircraft from the sea. Shoemaker approached the Navy, which retained rights to the wreck, about working on the project but was unsuccessful. He took the proposal to Hugh O'Neill, a Washington lawyer who bid for the rights. At a U.S. Maritime Adminstration auction in 1989, the group submitted a winning bid of $50,010 plus 10% of the value of the retrieved cargo. To resolve problems involving finance and Omani claims, the U.S. State Department put the group in touch with Sheik Farid, who had the support of the Omani government and agreed to finance a portion of the project.

Last month, Fiondella, accompanied by Shoemaker and O'Neill, traveled to Oman for two weeks. Using a remote operator vehicle, the group obtained video pictures of the vessel, showing that it had been broken in two. But the hunt failed to reveal the location of coins and bullion that were rumored to be on the ship when it was sunk. "The big mystery is if it contains $3 million (in) Saudia Arabian silver riyals and if some $250 million in silver bullion is still on board," Fiondella said.

In Oman, Fiondella also visited an archeological dig in the Arabian Desert that is believed to be the lost city of Ubar. "It was very exciting for me. I also ran into four Chez Jay customers who were working on the dig."

Fiondella believes that this trip was like fulfilling a childhood dream. As a child, he used to help his father collect Indian artifacts. In September, after the monsoon season, he hopes to return to Oman and continue work on the sunken vessel. "I'm looking forward to working on other deep-water projects," he said. "But the hardest thing about doing these type of projects is waiting for technology to catch up with the possibilities."

Roger Funk, a partner with the law firm of Greenberg, Glusker, Fields, Claman & Machtinger has been elected president of the Westside Fair Housing Council.

A member of the board of directors since 1987, Funk has served as vice president for the past two years. He is also on the board of the American Library Assn.'s Freedom to Read Foundation and performs free legal work through the organization Public Counsel. Other officers include James Hornstein and June Chase as vice presidents, Anne Froehlich and Fred Mautner as chief financial officers and Margery Posner and Danny Klein as secretaries.

The American Cancer Society awarded its National Volunteer Leadership Award to Allan Jonas, president of Jonas & Associates.

Jonas, a 36-year volunteer of the society, was honored at the organization's annual meeting last month in Atlanta.

Three Westside physicians have been elected officers for the 1992 Executive Medical Board at Santa Monica Hospital Medical Center.

Wally Ghurabi has been elected chief of staff. Ghurabi, who is medical director of the hospital's emergency center, is the first emergency physician to hold the post.

Also on the board are David Hartenbower, an internal medicine specialist who has been elected vice chief of staff, and pediatrician William Gurfield, who serves as secretary-treasurer.

Dr. Harold Benjamin was recently honored on National Philanthropy Day as founder of the year.

Benjamin, a resident of Santa Monica, was recognized for his determination and vision in creating the Wellness Center in Santa Monica.

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