Thursday, 27 October 2011

WWII wreck with £132m Indian silver found.

Last month, US based Odyssey Marine Exploration confirmed that it has located the wreck of the 400-foot SS Gairsoppa almost 3 miles below the water 300 miles off the coast of Ireland. Aboard is the largest known haul of precious metals ever discovered on any wreck- seven million ounces of silver loaded from India. In 1941, when the Gairsoppa was torpedoed and sunk, the value of the silver was £600,000. Today, it is worth £132m.

In February of 1941, the British cargo ship Gairsoppa, having loaded in Calcutta two months earlier as part of the World War II effort, was proceeding under convoy off Ireland when she ran short of fuel and was separated from the other ships. A German U Boat spotted the straggling vessel that was trying to make it to Galway in Ireland and torpedoed it. Some of the crew took to lifeboats, but only one boat made it ashore days later. Odyssey's Principal Marine Archaeologist Neil Cunningham Dobson says, "Even though records indicate that the lifeboats were launched before the ship sank, sadly most of her crew did not survive the long journey to shore".

Two years ago, Odyssey struck a deal with the British government that stipulated that the company could retain 80% of the value of the silver recovered from the wreck; 20% going to the UK. Odyssey had subsequently sent a remotely operated underwater craft to the wreck. Although the wreck was discovered last summer, video and photo footage confirmed only last week that it was indeed the Gairsoppa.

Odyssey says that the vessel had settled on the seabed in a fully upright position, with the cargo holds open and the bullion accessible via the hatches. It intends to start operations to recover the silver next year, using remote-controlled robotic submarines. I think we can safely say that none of the metal will be finding its way back to India anytime soon.

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