By any historic measure, German U-boat activity during World War II in the North Atlantic was a persistent and deadly fact of life.
But the German torpedo attack on a 412' steel-hulled cargo ship was particularly galling: not only was it a British ship but it also was most likely carrying in excess of 2,000 silver bars.
Just over 70 years after the SS Gairsoppasunk out of sight about 300 miles from Galway, Ireland, a recovery operation conducted by Tampa-Fla.-based Odyssey Marine Exploration has retrieved some 48 tons of silver bullion at a depth of roughly three miles.
Conducting the operation under contract with Britain’s Department for Transport, Odyssey Marine has so far retrieved 1,203 silver bars that have since been transported to a secure facility in the UK. The company will now launch a subsequent Gairsoppa recovery operation to hopefully pick up what it left behind. It is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.
“The success of this record-setting project proves that the Odyssey team can surgically cut through secure areas of a modern shipwreck to recover cargo in the extremely deep ocean with the use of robotics,” said Odyssey President and COO Mark Gordon. “By proving this we can now entertain a host of other shipwreck projects that were previously unattainable due to depth.”
The recovery operation was officially launched in May, coming on the heels of a series of reconnaissance dives conducted by the company earlier in the year.
Odyssey officials now hope to buttress the 1.4 million-oz. Gairsoppa recovery with the retrieval of an estimated 600,000 ozs. of silver onboard the SS Mantola — a second shipwreck recovery operation that is expected to reach its conclusion late this autumn. The Minolta was a 450' British-flagged steamer, which set sail from London on Feb. 4, 1917, carrying passengers and cargo — including a shipment of silver — to Calcutta, India. On Feb. 8, 1917, The vessel was torpedoed by a German submarine.
In a statement, Odyssey CEO Greg Stemm, said, “Our success on the Gairsoppa marks the beginning of a new paradigm for Odyssey in which we expect modern shipwreck projects will complement our archaeological shipwreck excavations.”
The operation has been framed by a public/private contract between Odyssey and the British government, which requires the company to bear the risk of the work while also retaining a percentage of the net saved value of the Gairsoppa haul after expenses.
Gordon contends the early success of the Gairsoppaoperation is proof that “our government partnership model works.”
“We took the risk of the search and recovery on this project,” said Gordon, “and will be rewarded with the repayment of expenses plus 80 percent of the net salved value of the silver recovered.”
The British government, meanwhile, “will retain 20 percent of the net salved value at no risk or expense to their taxpayers,” added Gordon.
Odyssey specializes in what is described as “archaeologically sensitive exploration” and the global recovery of deep-ocean shipwrecks.