Following the major earthquake that had devastated Messina in Italy on 28th December 1908, White Star announced that it would carry, free of charge, any freight addressed to the Italian Red Cross Society for the relief of the victims. Republic arrived at New York on 13th January 1909, loaded emergency supplies for Messina, and sailed on 22nd January. Her accommodation was fully booked, and she was carrying 560 tons of supplies: these were to be transferred to the the US Navy supply ship Culgoa at Gibraltar. There were also unsubstantiated rumours that she had a large amount of gold and silver aboard for the relief fund and also for the payroll for the US Atlantic Fleet based at Gibraltar.
The next day, 23rd January, travelling in dense fog off Nantucket, she was rammed by Lloyd Italiano’s Florida. Severe damage was done to Florida‘s bow, and a large hole was ripped in the side of Republic. Jack Binns, later of Titanic fame, was the radio operator aboard, and he managed to summon several rescue vessels, including White Star’s Baltic. Apparently this was the first time a CQD distress call had been sent.
Republic‘s passengers were safely transferred to Baltic, and Florida was safely escorted to New York and was later repaired. However the damage to Republic was too severe, and in spite of attempts to tow her back to New York, she sank at 8pm the next day. White Star later sued Lloyd Italiano for $2 million in damages, but the Italian company had filed a limitation of liability action and later obtained a court order staying all damage suits against it. A Captain Bayerle has established salvage rights to the wreck and plans to try to recover any bullion or other valuable material in the near future.