Odyssey Marine Exploration announced today that it confirmed the identity and location of the SS Gairsoppa, a Nazi treasure ship, nearly 4,700 meters below the surface of the North Atlantic.
On a dark North Atlantic winter night in 1941, the SS Gairsoppa was running low on fuel and left her convoy to seek refuge in Ireland when a Nazi U-boat sunk her. Loaded with tea, pig iron and seven million ounces of silver, her final resting place was in international waters 300 miles off the coast of Ireland. Today the 7 million ounces of silver have a street value of over $200 million not including the historic value of individual pieces.
The vessel was a 412-foot steel-hulled British cargo ship torpedoed by a German U-boat in February 1941. Contemporary research and official documents indicate that the ship’s load of silver had a 1941 value of £600,000, and nearly half her cargo, over 3 Million ounces of silver bullion, was privately owned and insured by the UK government. The total weight of silver makes it the largest known precious metal cargo ever recovered from the sea.
In hopes of recovering the treasure the UK Government Department for Transport last year awarded Odyssey the exclusive salvage contract for the cargo of the SS Gairsoppa. Under the salvage agreement, Odyssey will retain 80% of the net salved value of the silver bullion recovered under the contract.
The Odyssey team recently conducted ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) operations from the RV Odyssey Explorer to inspect the site. The video and photographs acquired during the exploration of the shipwreck were reviewed and analyzed at length to confirm the identity of the shipwreck as that of the SS Gairsoppa. The expedition and resulting data was also used to evaluate the condition of the shipwreck and to begin planning for recovery operations.
“Under the direction of Senior Project Manager Andrew Craig, the target was located with side-scan sonar and then visually inspected in less than two months from the start of the operation,” stated Mark Gordon, Odyssey President and COO. “Given the orientation and condition of the shipwreck, we are extremely confident that our planned salvage operation will be well suited for the recovery of this silver cargo.” said Andrew Craig, Odyssey Senior Project Manager.
“Being the son of a merchant mariner who worked for the same shipping line as the Gairsoppa’s and as a former merchant mariner myself, the visit to the site via ROV was particularly personal,” stated Neil Cunningham Dobson, Odyssey’s Principal Marine Archaeologist. “By analyzing the known configuration and research about the Gairsoppa and her final voyage and painstakingly exploring the shipwreck site to record each element and item, our team of experts was able to positively identify the site as the Gairsoppa. Even though records indicate that the lifeboats were launched before the ship sank, sadly most of her crew did not survive the long journey to shore. By finding this shipwreck, and telling the story of its loss, we pay tribute to the brave merchant sailors who lost their lives”
“While some people might wonder about the potential complexity of salvage at this depth, we have already conducted a thorough analysis of the best tools and techniques to conduct this operation and are confident that the salvage will be conducted efficiently and on a timely basis,” commented Greg Stemm, Odyssey CEO. “Hundreds of modern cargo ships like this have been salvaged since the mid-20th century, some at depths of thousands of meters. 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.”
Odyssey has begun the process of specifying and assembling the tools and equipment for the salvage, and will begin recovery of the treasure as soon as the weather window begins to open up in the North Atlantic this Spring. The company also has several other projects and contracts that will potentially begin during the balance of this working season and may be conducted through the winter months. Some of these projects are also in partnership with governments and feature pre-negotiated salvage awards.
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