Odyssey finds WWII-era freighter carrying silver
 Tbilisi 10:50 - 27.09.11 «GHN»
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Luck may have finally turned for Odyssey Marine Exploration. The Tampa-based ocean-exploring firm has located a WWII-era British freighter that went down with a fortune in silver bars.
The find could have 240 tons of silver bars aboard, potentially worth more than $218 million at current silver prices, possibly the largest raw precious metal cargo ever recovered from the ocean floor.
Though the wreckage sits in deeper waters than the Titanic, Odyssey officials say their remote-control rovers can recover the treasure.
Better yet for Odyssey, this haul may provide a cleaner windfall because Odyssey already has an agreement with the British government to divide the spoils, unlike past treasure finds still tied up in courts.
The wreck is the 412-foot-long British freighter SS Gairsoppa, which left Calcutta, India, in 1941 on its way to London with tons of tea and 7 million ounces of silver, worth 600,000 British pounds at the time, including 3 million ounces of private silver bullion issued by the UK government.
A German U-boat spotted the vessel off the coast of Ireland on Feb. 17 and unleashed a single torpedo that sunk the Gairsoppa to a depth of 4,700 meters (15,400 feet), 300 miles southwest of Galway Bay.
Odyssey officials say they confirmed the identity by matching torpedo damage from the U-boat log entry, the quantity of tea chests in the ship's manifest, the ship layout and hull colors that match the British India Company color scheme.
Last year, the British government issued Odyssey a contract to salvage the Gairsoppa, with 80 percent of the recovered value going to Odyssey (plus expenses), and the remaining 20 percent going to the British.
That should avoid the kinds of legal quagmires Odyssey found after recovering a half-billion-dollars worth of gold and silver coins from the Spanish ship Mercedes that went down in 1804.
Spain still claims that find as their property, and the case is working its way through U.S. courts.
Odyssey Spokeswoman Liz Shows said the Gairsoppa's silver is in the form of raw bars and isn't marketable as souvenir coins. Rather, the metal likely will be sold as a raw commodity, and Shows said several buyers are already interested in the haul.
As for the crew, Odyssey said historical records showed 83 crew members and two gunners were aboard the vessel at the time of the attack. While the British and Indian crew abandoned the ship, only one, Second Officer R.H. Ayres, survived.

 

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