Odyssey Marine Exploration has announced they have positively identified a shipwreck as that of SS Gairsoppa, a British cargo ship that was sunk by a torpedo fired from a German U-boat in 1941. The ship was reportedly carrying over 200 tonnes of silver.
The WWII-era Gairsoppa was found in international waters, 300 miles off the coast of Ireland by the Florida company. The ship, which is in exceptional condition, was resting upright on the ocean floor at a depth of 4,700 meters.
The 412-foot steel-hulled Gairsoppa was part of a convoy of ships returning to England from India when it was forced to detour towards Galway harbour to replenish its supply of coal. According to records kept by German U-boats, the ship was fired on four times with one torpedo hitting its mark.
A Royal Navy Official Report stated eighty-four crew members were lost when the Gairsoppa went down. Second Officer Mr. R.H. Ayres was the lone survivor. Records from Lloyd's War Losses reported the cargo included tea, pig iron, and a treasure trove of silver ingots.
The company said in a statement: "Contemporary research and official documents indicate that the ship was carrying £600,000 (1941 value) or seven million total ounces of silver, including over three million ounces of private silver bullion insured by the UK government, which would make it the largest known precious metal cargo ever recovered from the sea."
In January 2010, the United Kingdom awarded an exclusive salvage contract for the SS Gairsoppa to Odyssey Marine Exploration. Under the salvage agreement, Odyssey will retain 80 percent of the value of the silver bullion recovered from the shipwreck.
Andrew Craig, Odyssey Senior Project said, "We've accomplished the first phase of this project - the location and identification of the target shipwreck - and now we're hard at work planning for the recovery phase. Given the orientation and condition of the shipwreck, we are extremely confident that our planned salvage operation will be well suited for the recovery of this silver cargo."
Odyssey located the Gairsoppa using the "MAK-1M (deep-tow low frequency sonar system)."
A remote controlled vehicle (ROV) was used to visual inspect the wreckage to confirm the identity of the ship.
The company is scheduled to begin the recovery phase of the salvage operation in the spring of 2012, or "as soon as the weather window opens in the North Atlantic."