Odyssey Marine Exploration have done a deal with the British Government to attempt to recover the cargo of a merchant ship that was torpedoed in 1941. The S.S. Gairsoppa of the British Indian Steam Navigation Company sailed from Calcutta in December 1940 carrying a cargo of tea, iron and an estimated 240 tons of silver. She joined a convoy from Freetown, Sierra Leone, and was heading for Liverpool. The weather deteriorated and the captain felt that she would not have enough coal, so they broke away from the convoy to head for Galway in Ireland.
On February 17 1941 she was sunk by a single torpedo from a German U-Boat commanded by Ernst Mengersen. All 85 crew died, except for the second officer, who survived in a lifeboat for 13 days.
Odyssey Marine Exploration won a contract from the British Government to salvage the cargo. The terms of the deal apparently mean that Odyssey will receive 80% of the value recovered in return for shouldering all the costs and risks of recovery. The British Government will get the remaining 20%. The actual amount of silver on board is not known, as during the war the Government kept transportation records opaque so as to avoid giving information to the enemy. But investigation of insurance records imply that it could be as much as 240 tons.
Earlier this month, Odyssey used a robot to find what they believe is the wreck at a depth of 2.9 miles, approximately 300 miles south-west of Ireland. They have concluded that the wreck is of the Gairsoppa because of the number of holds, anchor type, scupper locations and the red and black hull colours which match the scheme used by the British India Steam Navigation Company.
You can read more about this story on the New York Times’s website.