Deep-sea recovery specialist Odyssey Marine Exploration is continuing its efforts to salvage 240 tons of silver bullion from the sliced open hull of the 412-foot S.S. Gairsoppa, a British merchant steamship that was sunk by Nazi U-boat torpedoes on February 17, 1941. The exact location of the wreck had been a mystery until 2011, when it was discovered about about 300 miles southwest of Galway, Ireland.
The ship descended to its watery grave within 20 minutes of being hit, and has rested three miles beneath the surface in the North Atlantic Ocean ever since. Recent technological breakthroughs in deep-water salvage had made the recovery project viable.
“Our capacity to conduct precision cuts and successfully complete the surgical removal of bullion from secure areas on the ship demonstrates our capabilities to undertake complicated tasks in the very deep ocean," stated Greg Stemm, Odyssey chief executive officer.
The vessel's silver is the heaviest and deepest precious-metal cargo ever retrieved from a shipwreck, according to Odyssey.
Startling images from the early retrieval efforts, which started in May 2012 and will continue through October, revealed row after row of immaculate silver bricks stacked neatly as if time had stood still for 71 years. In July, Odyssey had announced that 48 tons of silver (1,203 silver bars) had been pulled from the ship using sophisticated robotics.
Because the Gairsoppa was a British merchant ship, the recovery project is being conducted under contract with the United Kingdom Department for Transport. Odyssey will retain 80% of the value of the Gairsoppa silver cargo after recovering its expenses.
According to Odyssey, during the WWII, the U.K. government insured privately owned cargo under its War Risk Insurance program. After making an insurance payment of approximately £325,000 (1941 value) to the owners of the silver cargo lost aboard the Gairsoppa, the U.K. government became the owners of the insured cargo. There may have been additional government-owned silver cargo aboard that would have been self-insured.
Photographs courtesy of Odyssey Marine Exploration