1941: approximately 300 miles southwest of Ireland, the S.S. Gairsoppa was on its way back to England from Calcutta, India when it was struck down by a German U-boat during World War II, causing it to sink almost 3 miles below to the North Atlantic ocean floor, bringing down 85 men (save one who survived on a life boat for 13 days) and an estimated 240 tons of silver bullion on board. The 412-foot steel-hulled SS Gairsoppa was a British steam merchant ship that was in service during the war. She sailed with several convoys, before joining Convoy SL 64. Running low on fuel, she left the convoy and headed for Galway, Ireland, until her unfortunate demise.
2012: reported on Wednseday, a haul of 48 tons of silver bullion, worth about $38 million according to current rates — about 20% of the estimated total potentially in the wreck — was recently recovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa, Florida, making it probably the most complex, deepest, largest and heaviest precious metal recovery in history, and aided by new robotic technology. 1,203 silver bars, equalling approximately 1.4 million troy ounces, have been transported to a secure facility in the United Kingdom, according to the company. Silver recently traded for about $27 per troy ounce, making the value hover around $38 million. After being under water for 71 years, the silver no longer lusters, and could be mistaken for iron, although it can once again be refined and still holds value as a precious metal.
The merchant ship’s contents were privately insured by the UK Government under the War Risk Insurance program, and once the owners were paid approximately £325,000 (1941 value) to cover the losses, the UK government became the owners of the sunken cargo. Odyssey won the contract to recover the insured silver for the United Kingdom Department for Transport and was successful in locating the wreck in 2011. Under the contract, Odyssey bears the risk of search and recovery but for its effots retains 80% of the net value of the Gairsoppa’s silver cargo after expenses. The marine exploration company hopes to have the remaining cargo recovered within 90 days.
The deep sea operation will be featured on television specials on the Discovery Channel in the US and Channel 5 in the UK.