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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Odyssey Marine recovers 48 tons of silver from buried SS Gairsoppa

Marine is connected to Sea or Naval and Marine Insurance is insuring cargo in transit from one place to another – not necessarily by sea and can include land whether incidental or exclusive as also by air. 

By conventional wisdom, a Marine Insurer would ask for the details of the cargo, the nature of commodity, the value,  the way it is packed, the carrier, the transit – ie., origin and destination – the land points as also the port at which cargo would be loaded and the port of destination – all important details, which will have a direct bearing on acceptance of the risk, determination of terms and conditions and the rate to be charged.  Would one be surprised if they were to receive a marine proposal which does not emanate from any land place and the cargo being more than 70 years old !!

Interesting ! – this cargo has some Indian connection as well.  It was cargo of silver ingots, pig iron and tea from India to its masters at that time – Britain in 1941.  The carrying vessel was part of convoy SL-64 -  in a heavy storm and running low on coal off the coast of neutral Republic of Ireland,  the vessel  split off from the convoy and set course for Galway harbour.  She was circled by a German Focke-Wulf Fw 200 aircraft at 08:00 on 16 February 1941, and at 22.30 was spotted by U-101, under the command of Ernst Mengersen. Torpedoed on the starboard side in No. 2 hold, she sank within 20 minutes.  Most of the crew were lost while the Second officer with 4 Europeans and 2 lascars made their way out – 2 more died before reaching the shore.  

And by all accounts it should be a deep burial of the vessel, the crew and the cargo that was on board, some should have been destroyed in course of time, some would remain inside ever with no chance of retrieval – normal occurrence of any sunk vessel, one would think !!  

There is news that  Odyssey Marine Exploration,  pioneers in the field of deep-ocean exploration has successfully recovered approximately 48 tons of silver bullion from a depth of approximately three miles. This initial recovery of bullion from the SS Gairsoppa, a 412-foot steel-hulled British cargo ship that sank in February 1941, totals 1,203 silver bars or approximately 1.4 million troy ounces of silver and has been transported to a secure facility in the United Kingdom. After unloading the cargo, taking on fuel and changing personnel, recovery operations will continue and are expected to be completed in the third quarter of 2012.This record-breaking operation has so far produced the heaviest and deepest recovery of precious metals from a shipwreck.

Odyssey is conducting the Gairsoppa project under contract with the UK Department for Transport. Under the terms of the agreement, which follows standard commercial practices, Odyssey bears the risk of search and recovery and retains 80% of the net salved value of the Gairsoppa silver cargo after recovering its expenses. The contract was awarded to Odyssey following a competitive tender process.

Going by the Press release of the Salvors, the  amount of silver bars recovered so far represents approximately 43% of the insured silver bars, or approximately 20% of the total silver cargo which research has indicated may be on board.  The note further mentions of upcoming operational plans which  include continued recovery of silver on the Gairsoppa from the cargo area that is in the process of being cleared and then the inspection of other cargo holds if the current area does not hold the rest of the expected bullion. Serial numbers and other markings from the silver bars recovered to date all match the contemporary insured silver cargo documentation therefore it is anticipated that the entire insured amount is aboard. However, it is unknown at this point whether there is additional uninsured silver on the site.

As this was a cargo in transit during the War time, there apparently was no coverage from any Insurance Company.  It is reported that during the WW II time,  the UK Government insured privately owned cargo under their War Risk Insurance program. After making an insurance payment of approximately BP 325,000 (1941 value) to the owners of the silver cargo lost aboard the Gairsoppa, the UK Government became the owners of the insured cargo.  There may have been additional government-owned silver cargo aboard that would have been self-insured.

"With the shipwreck lying approximately three miles below the surface of the North Atlantic, this was a complex operation," commented Greg Stemm, Odyssey Chief Executive Officer. "Our capacity to conduct precision cuts and successfully complete the surgical removal of bullion from secure areas on the ship demonstrates our capabilities to undertake complicated tasks in the very deep ocean. This technology will be applicable to other modern shipwreck projects currently being scheduled as well as our deep ocean mineral exploration activities. 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."   Odyssey commenced recovery operations utilizing the chartered 291-foot Seabed Worker in late May after completing a series of reconnaissance dives earlier in the year.

The public will have the opportunity to share in the excitement of the recovery operations when television specials produced by JWM Productions premiere on Discovery Channel in the United States and Channel 5 in the United Kingdom.  [source of the information and photos taken from Odyssey Marine Exploration's website: .]

Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. is engaged in deep-ocean exploration using innovative methods and state-of-the-art technology. The Company is a world leader in shipwreck exploration, conducting extensive search and archaeological recovery operations on deep-ocean shipwrecks around the world.
The recovery vessel - 291 ft Seabed worker

Odyssey discovered the Civil War-era shipwreck of the SS Republic® in 2003 and recovered over 50,000 coins and 14,000 artifacts from the site nearly 1,700 feet deep.  Their web claims of many such success stories.  The present one - SS Gairsoppa was a British steam merchant ship that saw service during the Second World War. She sailed with several convoys, before joining Convoy SL 64. Running low on fuel, she left the convoy and headed for Galway, Ireland, but was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat. The wreck of the ship was located in 2011, and it was announced that an operation to recover its cargo of silver bullion, with an estimated value of £150 million, would begin in 2012. 

In 1989, the British government invited tenders to salvage the cargo and received just one, from Deepwater Recovery and Exploration Ltd. After a competitive tender, in January 2010, the government awarded  Odyssey Marine Exploration, a two-year contract to find and salvage the treasure which has risen in value manifold over the years.  Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration, on September 26, 2011, confirmed the identity and location of the Gairsoppa. The wreck of the ship was found on the sea floor at a depth of nearly 4,700 metres (2.9 miles) off the coast of Ireland.

The ingots  above and surprisingly 
tea chests below  on cargo holds still remaining

The 48 tons of silver treasure  now recovered makes it  probably "the deepest, largest precious metal recovery in history".

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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