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Wreck of WWII ship with $210M in silver found

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
September 26, 2011 1:39 PM

Wreck of WWII ship with $210M in silver found


A ladder leading up onto the forecastle deck of the SS Gairsoppa shipwreck, approximately 4,700 meters beneath the North Atlantic. One of the cargo holds of the ship, sunk in 1941, can be seen at left. (Odyssey Marine Exploration)

(CBS News) 

TAMPA, Fla. - The wreck of a British cargo ship carrying 7 million ounces of silver that was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1941 has been identified.


Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc., announced Monday that it had located and verified the wreck of the SS Gairsoppa approximately 300 miles west of the Irish coast. The ship lies approximately 3 miles beneath the surface of the North Atlantic.


The Gairsoppa, a 412-foot steel-hulled cargo ship, was in transit from Calcutta to London on February 17, 1941 with 85 people on board when it strayed from a convoy. A German submarine attacked, sinking the ship. Lifeboats were launched, but only the second officer, who washed ashore, survived.


The ship's manifest included 2,600 tons of pig iron, and 1,765 tons of tea.


More impressive was the cargo of silver ingots being carried, which was valued then at 600,000 pounds. At today's prices the silver would be valued at about 150 million pounds, or more than $210 million.


Because the silver shipment was insured by the U.K. government, bids were solicited for locating and salvaging the wreck. If recovered, the silver would represent the largest known precious metal cargo ever salvaged from the sea.


Under its agreement with the U.K. government, Odyssey will retain 80% of the net salved value of the silver bullion recovered.


According to Odyssey President and COO Mark Gordon, side-scan sonar was used to locate the wreck. Video and photographs taken by robotic vehicles were examined to identify the ship.


"We've accomplished the first phase of this project - the location and identification of the target shipwreck - and now we're hard at work planning for the recovery phase," said Odyssey Senior Project Manager Andrew Craig.


He was optimistic about the salvaging operation given the condition of the wreck.


Odyssey said the salvage operation may begin in the spring when weather permits.


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