National Geographic News
A silver bar.

The recovered silver was insured at $1.3 million in 1941; today it's worth about $75 million.

Photograph courtesy Odyssey Marine Exploration

Harmony Huskinson

National Geographic

Published August 2, 2013

An oceanic exploration company has recovered 122,000 pounds of silver from a shipwreck 300 miles off the coast of Galway, Ireland—the heaviest amount of precious metal ever retrieved from a shipwreck.

In February 1941, the S.S. Gairsoppa, a 412-foot steel-hulled British cargo ship with stockpiles of tea, iron, and silver, was weathering a storm when it was struck by a Nazi torpedo. The ship sank within 20 minutes; only one person survived.

At the time, the silver that ended up on the seafloor was insured at $1.3 million. Today it's worth about $75 million.

Going Deep

The silver was retrieved about two weeks ago by Odyssey Marine Exploration, which used a remotely operated vehicle to access the shipwreck. The vehicle descended about three miles and explored several rooms in the ship until it found the silver in two locations. (Related: "Deepest Shipwreck Explored Off U.S. Yields Treasures.")

Mark Gordon, president of Odyssey Marine Exploration, said the process of uncovering the silver at that depth was complex and difficult.

"It's pretty amazing to think that, first, it can even work in those depths. And then to be able to use the various saws and tools to get inside and then look around, it's just really staggering to think what our technical teams have accomplished," he said.

 

A remotely operated vehicle was used to explore the wreck, three miles below the surface.

Photograph courtesy Odyssey Marine Exploration

 

What's Next

This recovery of the 122,000 pounds of silver is actually the second load obtained by Odyssey Marine Exploration. The first recovery took place in the summer of 2012 and extracted approximately 96,000 pounds of silver from the seafloor.

That makes a total of 218,000 pounds of silver and is all of the insured silver the cargo vessel was known to be carrying. However, the S.S. Gairsoppa could have held still more silver—uninsured and undocumented. Next summer, Odyssey Marine Exploration may return to the ship again, though a further search would involve sawing through the ship's rusty steel hull.

In addition to finding silver, Odyssey Marine Exploration also recovered several other artifacts from the ship, including insurance documents, newspapers, and personal letters. After conservation of these documents, the team hopes to send the letters to the friends and families of the sailors who perished in the wreck.

"It would be neat if we could reunite, if not the recipients, then the descendants of the intended recipients with those little pieces of history," Gordon said.

Follow Harmony Huskinson on Twitter.

8 comments
Udeny Dayarathna
Udeny Dayarathna

The owners of the silver may have recovered the lost from the insurance company back in 1941, and this was found in international waters ! So, the salvages get to keep the booty, unless there is a legal challenge from the insurance company..!?

Rabindra Saha
Rabindra Saha

The silver that the British stole from India

pamela cash
pamela cash

I had such fun watching you find the silver, I was in the hospital flat on my back with an MS attack and there was Nat Geo, thank you Nat Geo and thank you team I knew the silver was there !!

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