Russia plans to raise a schooner that sank off the coast of Finland in 1771 while carrying gold, porcelain and paintings for Empress Catherine the Great.
The Frau Maria was commissioned by Catherine the Great to transport porcelain, gold, silver, bronze and 27 paintings by Dutch masters for her art collection, which became the basis for the Hermitage museum in St Petersburg.
But the ship was struck by a storm in October 1771 and sank off the coast of what was then Sweden.
The Rescue of National Cultural and Historic Valuables hopes the paintings have not been ruined.
Fund chief Artem Tarasov says the paintings were packed in leaden boxes sealed with wax. He says they could yet be salvaged.