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EPRON (Russian: ЭПРОН, "Экспедиция подводных работ особого назначения" - "Special Expedition for Underwater Works") was created on December 17, 1923 in the Soviet Union initially as a unit within the GPU to salvage valuable cargo and equipment from sunken ships. Its first operation was treasure-hunting near Sevastopol for the wreckage of HMS Prince, a steamship sunk by a storm off Balaklava in November 1854 when it was carrying gold from Britain to pay British troops fighting in the Crimea (GBP 200,000). The project team was financed, equipped, trained and managed by Japanese diving specialists, who had become highly experienced through salvaging warships of the Russian Imperial Navy sunk or scuttled during the Russian-Japanese War of 1904-05. The wreckage was supposedly located but there were no reports of gold in quantities being found. After that EPRON extended its operations to rescue and salvaging sunken ships, gradually absorbing other diving units (less experienced and/or worse equipped) and creating new ones. In 1929 EPRON became the sole body in the USSR responsible for all kinds of work under water - in marine operations, hydraulic and river engineering, mining, wreckage and derelict logging and utilizing, etc. In 1931 it was transferred from the OGPU as a department to the NKPS (Russian: НКПС, "Народный Комиссариат Путей Сообщения" - "People's Commissariat (Ministry) of Transport"). In 1936 EPRON was subordinated to NKVT (Russian: НКВТ, "Народный Комиссариат Водного Транспорта" - "People's Commissariat (Ministry) of Sea and River Transport"); in 1939 - further to NKMF (Russian: НКМФ, "Народный Комиссариат Морского Флота" - "People's Commissariat (Ministry) of the Merchant Navy").

By 1941 EPRON had rescued 36 ships and raised 74 sunken ships with total weight of about 25,000 GRT. In 1941 naval rescue and salvage units were transferred to Soviet Navy (still under the name EPRON); in 1942 it was renamed the ""Naval Rescue Service" (Russian: Аварийно-спасательная служба ВМФ).

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