Row after row of silver bricks lie stacked aboard the sunken S.S. Gairsoppa, torpedoed in the North Atlantic by a Nazi U-boat in 1941. The Odyssey Marine Exploration salvage company this month announced it had retrieved 48 of the 240 tons of silver in the British merchant steamship's hull.
The 412-foot (126-meter) Gairsoppa currently resides nearly 3 miles (4.7 kilometers) underwater—deeper than theTitanic. The World War II-era vessel's silver is the heaviest and deepest precious-metal cargo ever retrieved from a shipwreck, according to Odyssey, which plans to return to the site to continue the salvage operation.
A ladder connects the cargo hold to the Gairsoppa's deck. The ship's holds are open, and its belly is splintered by the torpedo that sank it, but the Gairsoppa nevertheless sits upright on the seabed, largely intact, its paint still faintly visible.
As for the silver inside those holds, Odyssey Marine has a deal with the U.K. government to retain most of the cargo after the mission is complete. Twelve hundred bricks have been recovered so far, worth around U.S. $38 million, according to the New York Times.
(Also see "Giant Roman Shipwreck Yields 'Fishy' Treasure.")
Photograph courtesy Odyssey Marine Exploration
A remotely controlled robotic arm lifts silver bullion from the Gairsoppa's hold. Recovery of the bricks began in May 2012.
Seabed Worker, the ship chartered for the project, is specially equipped for deep-sea salvage, according to its operators. The vessel's toolkit includes tethered robots, pressure-proof lights and tools, and a special plastic cable that's weightless in seawater, according to Odyssey.
The technology has opened even the deepest and heaviest sunken cargo to recovery, Odyssey chief executive Greg Stemm told the New York Times.
"People have been worried about the technology," he said. "This shows that we have it under control. We can pick up large amounts of silver."