The Lost Treasure of the S.S. Gairsoppa?

In February 1941, a Nazi U-boat torpedoed the SS Gairsoppa, sending it to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. Its holds contained a treasure…one of the largest treasures in maritime history. And now, that treasure has been recovered. What is the lost treasure of the Silver Shipwreck?

What is the Silver Shipwreck?

The SS Gairsoppa was a massive cargo ship. In 1941, it left India with silver ingots, pig iron, and tea which it intended to bring back to Britain.  Initially, it traveled with a convoy. However, with coal running low and winds running high, the vessel split off on its own and headed for Ireland’s Galway Harbor. On February 17, the Nazi U-boat U-101 spotted the Gairsoppa and subsequently torpedoed her. She sank in less than twenty minutes, leaving only a handful of survivors.

The vessel sank in 15,400 feet of water, taking with it nearly 80 crewmen…and a priceless treasure. Back in September, the famed treasure hunting / salvage firm Odyssey Marine Exploration announced it had discovered the so-called Silver Shipwreck.

A Massive Treasure Salvage?

On July 18, Odyssey reported the recovery of 1,203 silver bars, or 48 total tons of silver, from the Silver Shipwreck. At the current rate of $31.46 per ounce, the treasure is worth roughly $48 million. And this only represented 43% of the total haul. At the time, Odyssey had plans to salvage the rest of the shipwreck.

Working backward, it appears the Gairsoppa was carrying roughly 112 tons of silver at the time of its sinking. Thus, the entire treasure could be worth about $113 million. Thus, it’s probably accurate this is being called “the deepest, largest precious metal recovery in history.”

“With the shipwreck lying approximately three miles below the surface of the North Atlantic, this was a complex operation. Our capacity to conduct precision cuts and successfully complete the surgical removal of bullion from secure areas on the ship demonstrates our capabilities to undertake complicated tasks in the very deep ocean.” ~ Greg Stemm, Odyssey Chief Executive Officer

Technically, the UK government owns the treasure. It had insured the cargo and paid off the silver’s owners after the Gairsoppa sank. Under the terms of the salvage agreement, the government will keep 20% of the treasure, net costs. Odyssey will keep the rest.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Our congratulations go out to Odyssey. This is an excellent haul. And it appears this story will end far better than the controversial “Black Swan” debacle.

Back in 2007, Odyssey secretly salvaged 17 tons of gold and silver coins from a mysterious shipwreck codenamed the “Black Swan.” The Spanish government cried foul and demanded that the wreck be handed over to it. The Spanish government’s ownership of the wreck was questionable at best and it spent none of its own time, money, or effort to recover it. Yet, numerous U.S. courts sided with the Spanish government and ruled Odyssey had to relinquish the Black Swan’s treasure.

At the time the time, we predicted that particular outcome, which was possibly influenced by secret back room bureaucratic dealings, would have extremely negative effects on the field of shipwreck salvage.

“Going forward, treasure hunters will have little to no incentive to report their findings to the world. The black market for antiquities will grow. The treasure hunting field will attract a greater number of reckless and unskilled individuals. Thus, salvage work will be done with more haste and less care.” ~ David Meyer, The Black Swan Heist

We still think that will be the case in the long-run. However, we’re pleased to see this particular salvage operation end on a happy note. Once again, congratulations to Odyssey!

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