Wednesday, September 28, 2011

British shipwreck with a fortune in silver on board discovered in Atlantic

Stern compass discovered on the SS Gairsoppa The binnacle housing the stern compass of the SS Gairsoppa shines in the lights of Odyssey’s Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) during a visual inspection of the site approximately 4,700 meters deep. (pictures / video)

The wreck of a British cargo ship containing silver worth £155 million, sunk by a German U-boat during the Second World War, has been discovered on the Atlantic sea bed.

From TheTelegraph

Expert underwater archaeologists will attempt to salvage the treasure, handing 20 per cent of its value to the British Government.

The SS Gairsoppa set sail from India in December 1940 carrying a consignment of 240 tonnes of silver, iron and tea.
It was headed for Liverpool but was forced to break away from its military convoy off the coast of Ireland as weather conditions deteriorated and it began to run out of fuel.
As the merchant steamship tried to make it to Galway it was attacked by the German submarine U101, 300 miles southwest of the Irish harbour.
On February 17, 1941, a single torpedo sank the ill-fated vessel, killing all 85 crewmen except one.

Of 32 survivors who managed to clamber onto lifeboats, Second Officer Richard Ayres was the only one who, 13 days later, made it to the Cornish coast alive.
He was awarded an MBE for his attempts to rescue his fellow sailors and lived until 1992.

The wreck of the 412ft-long Gairsoppa, owned by the British Indian Steam Navigation Company, was discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration, an American underwater archaeology and salvage firm, this month.

The Department of Transport had awarded the Florida-based treasure hunters a contract to conduct the search, allowing the company to retain 80 per cent of the profits of any silver salvaged.
Greg Stemm, chief executive of Odyssey, said: "We were fortunate to find the shipwreck sitting upright, with the holds open and easily accessible.
"This should enable to us to unload cargo through the hatches, as would happen with a ship alongside a cargo terminal."

The SS Gairsoppa lies approximately 3 miles below the surface of the north Atlantic Ocean.
The ship sank after being hit with a torpedo on February 17, 1941.
Odyssey discovered the shipwreck in 2011 and inspected the site with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV).
What appear to be tea chests were observed in one cargo hold that was accessible to the ROV.
The Gairsoppa's cargo manifest included more than 1700 tons of tea and up to 7 million ounces of silver.

Odyssey's tethered robot took three and a half hours to descend 2.9 miles to the seabed.
There, it found a gaping hole where the torpedo had struck 70 years ago.
The company said it had confirmed the shipwreck's identity from evidence including the number of holds, the anchor type, the scupper locations and red-and-black hull colours.
Although none of the precious metal has yet been found, the shiny tin linings of the tea chests were initially mistaken for silver bars, according to the New York Times.

The Odyssey team is expected to begin the "recovery" stage of the operation when the weather improves in spring.
Mr Stemm said: "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.
"Hundreds of modern cargo ships like this have been salvaged since the mid-20th century, some at depths of thousands of metres.
"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."

Neil Cunningham Dobson, Odyssey's principal marine archaeologist, added:
"By analysing 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."

The precise value of the ship's treasure is unclear because the wartime government did not disclose the true nature of its transportation records.
But Odyssey discovered that it had paid out an insurance claim on silver amounting to around 120 tons owned by private parties and it believes the government's hidden share would be about the same.

The Government will be hoping that the search does not prove controversial.
A federal appeals court in Florida this month upheld a ruling that Odyssey must hand over an estimated £250 million worth of gold and silver coins to the Spanish Government after a four-year legal battle in which it was accused of plundering Spain's national heritage.
The coins had been recovered from a Spanish frigate laden with bullion from the Americas that was sunk by the British off the coast of Portugal in October 1804.

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