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US Treasure Hunters Find WWII Shipwreck Laden with Silver Worth £150 Million

Posted on the 26 September 2011 by Periscope @periscopepost
US treasure hunters find WWII shipwreck laden with silver worth £150 million

A shipwreck. Photo credit: DocJelly

In news that will delight schoolboys and historians alike, it has emerged that a British shipwreck containing 200 tonnes of silver worth £150 million has been discovered close to Ireland.

The SS Gairsoppa, a 412 foot ship, was found by US marine exploration firm Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc nearly 4,700 metres below the North Atlantic and 300 miles off the Irish coast. The Gairsoppa, a British cargo steamship, was sunk by German U-boat 101 in 1941, commanded by Ernst Mengersen. According to the BBC, the vessel was on its way back to Britain from Calcutta, India, when she ran low on fuel in stormy weather and tried to divert to Galway harbour where she was spotted and sunk by the German submarine. Of the 32 crew members who boarded lifeboats after the attack, all perished except one survivor who, 13 days after the vessel foundered, reached shore at the Lizard lighthouse.

Unlike other wartime shipwrecks, notably that of RMS Lusitania, the discovery of this wreck is particularly remarkable because of the cargo. Odyssey Marine’s senior project director, Andrew Craig, is on record as saying that given the orientation and condition of the shipwreck the salvor is “extremely confident” that the planned salvage operation will be well suited to the recovery of the silver. The salvor has confirmed that it is “highly unlikely” that any human remains will be found, given the age and depth of the wreck. Reports suggest that the wreck is settled upright on the seabed with its cargo holds open which should mean that remote robotic submarines can be used to retrieve the silver bullion.

The discovery of the SS Gairsoppa is a notable coup for Odyssey Marine in light of a fixed term, two year contract for salvage awarded by the Department for Transport. The contract was awarded in January last year and reflects the fact that, as salvor, Odyssey assumes the risk, expense, and responsibility for the search, cargo recovery, documentation, and marketing of the cargo.

Greg Stemm, Odyssey’s CEO commented at the time of tender that his company looked forward to returning the silver to the “stream of commerce”. He lauded the “excellent working relationship” with the UK government and the “straightforward” legal ownership arrangements. These sentiments perhaps stand in contrast to machinations over other wrecks, notably that of RMS Titanic. Last month, following long-standing legal wrangles which commenced in 1994, RMS Titanic Inc was given title by a US District Court to approximately 2,919 artefacts with a value of $110m.

A crucial part of any decision relating to the ownership of a wreck and its cargo ought to be the balance between the risks and costs incurred by the salvor and the requirement to safeguard national, cultural heritage for posterity, particularly given that many wrecks are first and foremost grave sites. It is encouraging that the UK tender requires Odyssey to document and market the cargo and, with luck, this tender and its aftermath will meet those goals. Only time will tell.


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