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In a dramatic find that had me searching for my Speedo’s and snorkel to see if I could emulate it, Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc., a Florida based exploration company with the desirable domain name of www.shipwreck.net, located the wreck of the SS Gairsoppa and with it her Silver Treasure. Sunk by a U-Boat in 1941 when it was carrying up to 7 million ounces of silver, the cargo at the time was worth £600,000, a cool £135 million in today’s market.
In 2012 Odyssey set a record for the deepest and heaviest cargo recovery from a shipwreck with the recovery of 48 tons of silver from the SS Gairsoppa. Shipwrecked at a depth of 4,700 meters (15,419 feet) about 300 miles off Ireland’s coast in international waters. Odyssey surpassed that record in July 2013, when it recovered more than 61 additional tons of silver bullion from the SS Gairsoppa.
The Gairsoppa’s final voyage began in Calcutta, India in December 1940 where she had been loaded with nearly 7,000 tons of cargo that included not just silver, but pig iron and tea.
She joined a convoy from Freetown, Sierra Leone, which departed for Liverpool on January 31, 1941 without a military escort. Reaching the Atlantic, the Gairsoppa hampered with her heavy cargo, was forced to reduce speed due to high winds and ocean swells. As the weather worsened on February 14, the Gairsoppa, running low on coal and with insufficient fuel to keep up with the convoy, was forced to sail alone without the protection of the convoy and headed for neutral Republic of Ireland and Galway harbour.
On 17 February 1941, U-boat U-101 captained by Ernst Mengersen, submerged to 66.5 meters and moved in for the attack. Four torpedoes were fired, one hitting its mark. Around 22.30 hours an explosion occurred in the Gairsoppa’s no. 2 hold. The impact of this caused the foremast to crash onto the deck, snapping the wireless antennae and cutting the ship off from the outside world, so no distress call could be sent. 81-crew members and two gunners were lost (see http://www.convoyweb.org.uk/sl/mem/64_1.htm)
Almost 70-years later, in 2010, the UK’s Department for Transport awarded Odyssey, in a competitive bidding process, the exclusive salvage contract for the cargo of the SS Gairsoppa. Under this agreement, Odyssey will retain 80% of the net salved value of the silver bullion recovered.
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