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$38 million worth of silver recovered from sunken SS Gairsoppa

Updated on February 19, 2014

A part of the treasures

Silver ingots in ship's hold
Silver ingots in ship's hold | Source
The 412-foot SS Gairsoppa
The 412-foot SS Gairsoppa
2nd Officer Richard Ayres, only survivor
2nd Officer Richard Ayres, only survivor

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Sunken ship with tons of silver found

Seventy years hence, a 1941 British treasure ship SS Gairsoppa, named after a spectacular waterfall near India’s western coast, was found in the North Atlantic Seas more than 3 miles deep about 300 miles southwest of Ireland. Believed to be carrying a cargo of 240 tons of silver, this treasure ship which was under the employ of the Ministry of War Transport was torpedoed and sunk by a Nazi U-boat during WWII.

Why captain decided to change course

Commanded by Gerald Hyland and his crew of mainly Englishmen, the ill-fated 412-foot ship SS Gairsoppa was sailing home to London with a convoy of 20 ships from Calcutta in January 1941. But because of the rough seas and low supply on coal, Capt. Hyland decided to sail away from the convoy and headed for Galway instead of Liverpool. Galway is a city in Ireland while Liverpool City is in England.

Convoy suffered terrible loss

The convoy of 20 ships were allowed to steam ahead. On the 12th day of February, the remaining convoy of 20 ships were intercepted by German cruisers resulting in the loss of 150 lives and the sinking of 7 ships.

SS Gairsoppa was torpedoed

Meanwhile completely unaware of the tragedy and danger that lies ahead Gerald Hyland continues forward. 5 days later Gairsoppa steams into the path of a submerged U-Boat on patrol captained by Ernst Mengerson. Torpedo’s from the U-boat are fired immediately taking out the Gairsoppa’s radio controls and causing enough damage for the ship to start sinking. It was February 17, 1941. Reportedly 3 lifeboats were hoisted and floated, but only one of 85 British and Indian crew, including 2 gunners, survived the attack.

Survivors

2ndOfficer Richard Ayres- after 13 days- reached the Cornish coast in a lifeboat. 8 Europeans and 25 lascar seamen on board with him in the lifeboat died of dehydration and hypothermia. The surviving Richard Ayers along with the 3 dead bodies of his companions were pulled to shore. The 3 were buried, including 2 unidentified Indian sailors and gunner Norman Thomas at St. Wynallow Churchyard with appropriate headstones. Richard Ayers received an MBE and pursued a career as a cargo Superintendant with the BISNC. He died in 1992.

Date the treasure ship was found

Odyssey Marine Exploration- the U.S. salvage company which made the discovery announced the find on September 26, 2011.

Friday’s closing price of silver was $30.10 per ounce, so the trove would be worth more than $210 million today

The salvage company is planning to recover the treasure in the spring of 2012. It stands to collect 80% of the net value of the silver recovered as per contract with the UK Department for transport.

Quantity and value of silver hauled in

According to Discovery News as published in the Huff Post World, dated Oct. 23, 2012 treasure-hunting company Odyssey Marine Exploration has salvaged 48 tons of silver treasure from the sunken cargo ship. They hauled in 1,203 bars of silver. Based on current precious metal prices, the haul is valued at $38 million, though that's just represents only about 20 % of all the bullion residing in the Gairsoppa.

Difficulty in lifting up sunken treasures

Riches found in the deep sea often lie undisturbed because lifting them is too difficult. In 1995, treasure hunters located a lost submarine carrying two tons of gold. It remains on the bottom.

"Dyneema" brings hope for recovering other treasures

The project’s success has made Odyssey happy about the possibilities for other shipwrecks. Using a kind of plastic cable called Dyneema that is as strong as steel but weightless in seawater, unlike the long steel cable which breaks under their immense weight, according to Odyssey chief executive officer Mr.Greg Stemn, the Odyssey hopes to continue hunting treasures down the ocean floor

“There are billions of dollars worth of cargos that have been considered unrecoverable,” Mr. Stemm said. “This opens up the entire ocean floor.”

A Treasure Chest

Deep beneath the blue waters Dwells an old sunken ship In it lies a treasure chest Greed and avarice at its best
Glinting silver coins aplenty, Gold bars and a necklace pearly Some diamond pins and a ruby ring And a glittering crown fit for a king
An ivory fan and sapphire bracelets Jeweled cups and emerald anklets Heap upon heap, mound upon mound There it lies, waiting to be found
The chest took lives of men depraved And the treasure lies in a wet, muddy grave

By Gulrukh Tausif

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