An American deep-ocean shipwreck exploration company is set to begin a massive salvage operation to recover £70 million of silver which went down aboard a British cargo steamer during World War II 300 miles off the coast of Galway.
Odyssey Marine Exploration has been awarded the exclusive salvage contract for the cargo of SS Gairsoppa by the UK government department for transport. The contract which was awarded after a competitive bid process is for two years and will commence immediately.
The SS Gairsoppa was a British cargo steamer enlisted in the service of the UK for the ministry of war transport during World War II. In February 1941 the steamer was on its way from India to Britain with a cargo of silver ingots, pig iron, and tea when it began to run out of fuel off the coast of neutral Ireland. As the steamer headed away from the convoy to the safety of Galway harbour where it was to refuel, it was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U101 on February 17. The steamer sank within 20 minutes and her last reported position was 300 miles southwest of Galway Bay. Of the 32 crew members who boarded lifeboats after the attack, all perished except for one survivor who, 13 days later, reached the UK, making it ashore on the Cornish coast at Lizard Lighthouse. The wreck now lies 6,500 feet (2,000m ) below the surface.
Commenting on the upcoming salvage operation Odyssey’s CEO Greg Stemm said that his team were looking forward to recovering the silver and returning it to the “stream of commerce”.
“The shipwreck is lying in the deep ocean well within the range of current search and recovery capabilities. We have good location information which suggests a search area that can be completed in approximately 90 days, and we are scheduling this project for summer 2010,” he said.