'Silver haul' found on sunken ship


A US salvage company said yesterday it had found the sunken wreckage of a British cargo ship filled with silver in the Atlantic Ocean, where it was torpedoed by the Germans during the second World War.

The wreckage of the SS Gairsoppa was found in international waters 480km off the coast of Ireland, at a depth of 4,700m (15,510 ft), Florida-based company Odyssey Marine Exploration said.

The Gairsoppa sank on February 17th, 1941, after it was hit by a torpedo from a German U-Boat. Only one of the 85 men on board survived. The 125m (412ft) ship was carrying cargo for the British Ministry of War Transportation when it was sunk.

Its cargo included about seven million ounces of silver, the company said in a statement. That would make it the largest known cargo of precious metal ever recovered from the sea.

Odyssey Marine was awarded a salvage contract by the British government in 2010. Under the contract, the company will retain 80 per cent of the net salvaged value of the silver bullion. The ship was located using sonar, and a remotely controlled vehicle was used to send pictures of the wreckage to the surface.

"Given the orientation and condition of the shipwreck, we are extremely confident that our planned salvage operation will be suited for the recovery of this silver cargo," Andrew Craig, the Odyssey Marine recovery manager, said in a statement. Recovery operations are expected to begin in the spring, the company said.

Odyssey Marine has been in a legal battle with Spain over 500,000 gold and silver coins it discovered in the Atlantic Ocean in 2007. Spain says the coins came from a Spanish ship that sank in 1804, Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes.

A US appeals court ruled last week that US courts had no jurisdiction in the case and it should be decided in Spain. Odyssey Marine is appealing that decision.