In 1941, the SS Gairsoppa was heading from India to Britain. Suddenly, a Nazi U-Boat appeared on the horizon. It fired on the Gairsoppa, sending the massive cargo ship to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. Now, that ship is on the verge of being recovered. But it’s no ordinary cargo ship. Its holds are believed to contain a treasure…one of the largest treasures in maritime history.
The Sinking of the SS Gairsoppa?
In 1941, the Gairsoppa left India with silver ingots, pig iron, and tea which it intended to bring back to Britain. It was initially part of 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 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. It was believed to be carrying ~240 tons of silver, which amounts to a staggering ~$243 million. Earlier this week, the famed treasure hunting / salvage firm Odyssey Marine Exploration announced that it had discovered the shipwreck.
Odyssey Marine Exploration plans to Salvage the SS Gairsoppa?
Next spring, Odyssey will attempt to recover the treasure in what is already being called the “deepest and largest ever retrieval of a precious cargo.” According to its contract with the United Kingdom, Odyssey will keep 80% of the silver lode. The rest will go to the government, which as you might expect is “desperately looking for new sources of income.” In fact, Odyssey is being encouraged to find more valuable shipwrecks for the UK government.
But first, Odyssey will focus on completing its salvage of the Gairsoppa. It will be a difficult task due to the extreme depth of the wreck. But Odyssey doesn’t seem too worried.
“We were fortunate to find the shipwreck sitting upright, with the holds open and easily accessible. This should enable us to unload cargo through the hatches as would happen with a floating ship alongside a cargo terminal.” ~ Greg Stemm, Odyssey CEO
Will the Gairsoppa turn out to be the richest shipwreck of all time? Probably not. The mysterious “Black Swan,” which was also salvaged by Odyssey, is rumored to have been carrying treasure worth ~$500 million in today’s dollars. But the bigger question is what will happen to the Gairsoppa’s treasure once its recovered.
Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis
After secretly salvaging the Black Swan, Spain cried foul and demanded that the wreck be handed over to it. This happened regardless of the fact that the Spanish government’s ownership of the wreck was questionable at best and that Spain had spent none of its own time, money, or effort to recover it. Surprisingly, numerous U.S. courts sided with Spain and ruled that Odyssey must turn the Black Swan over to its government.
But those judgments have come under scrutiny and deservedly so. Documents provided by Wikileaks showed that the U.S. government attempted to conspire with Spain in the matter. More specifically, it offered to help Spain retrieve the Black Swan. In exchange, it requested that a painting by Camille Pissarro, which was stolen by the Nazis and now hangs in Madrid’s Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, be returned to an American citizen named Claude Cassirer.
“The possibility that someone in the U.S. government came up with this perfidious offer to sacrifice Odyssey, its thousands of shareholders, and the many jobs created by the company in exchange for the return of one painting to one individual is hard to believe.” ~ Odyssey Marine Exploration
Will the cash-starved British government, despite its agreement with Odyssey, attempt to seize the bulk of the treasure for itself? Let’s hope not. But until then, we can only wait and wonder.