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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

SS City of Cairo sunk in 1942 - salvaged with tons of Indian coins !!!!

SS City of Cairo was a British passenger steamship. She was sunk in the Second World War with heavy loss of life. She was built by Earle’s Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd, Hull in 1915 for Ellerman Lines Ltd of London. She was 449.9 ft (137.1 m) long, had two decks, two masts and 8,034 gross register tons (GRT). She was registered in Liverpool.  She was requisitioned during the Second World War to bring supplies to the United Kingdom. Her last voyage, under the command of her Master, William A. Rogerson, was to take her from Bombay. 

British trading posts in India were first established by the East India Company, which quickly evolved into larger colonies covering a significant part of the subcontinent.  In 1835, the EIC adopted a unified system of coinage throughout all British possessions in India and the older Presidency system was discontinued.  Coinage issued after 1857 were under the authority of monarch as India became part of the British Empire.    The first set of republic India coins were issued in 1950.

Coinage under the British can be divided into two periods: East India Company (EIC) issues, pre-1858; and Imperial issues struck under direct authority of the crown.  Early gold coinage with Queen Victoria's crowned bust consisted of one mohur coins dated 1862. These coins were of the same weight (11.66 grams = one Tola) and fineness (0.9167) as the EIC issued mohurs.  Later, there were silver coins which replaced the gold ones.   Currency and proof issues of the 1862 dated rupee coins have a number of different obverse and reverse die varieties, which are helpful in identification of the mint.  Rupee coins with Victoria's bust were minted until her death in 1901.

On 1st  Nov 1942  a vessel named ‘the City of Cairo’  left Capetown with 150 passengers, of whom nearly a third were women and children and followed the African coast.  She was unescorted, only capable of 12 knots and her engines burned smokily. On 6 November, the smoke trail was sighted by U-68 and at 21.36 hours one torpedo struck the City of Cairo. The master gave order to abandon ship and all the women and children left the ship safely, only six people were lost in the evacuation. Merten fired a second torpedo after 20 minutes, which caused the ship to sink by the stern about 450 miles south of St. Helena. Then U-68 questioned the survivors in the six overcrowded lifeboats and left the area.

Besides the passengers, she was carrying 7,422 tons of general cargo, including pig iron, timber, wool, cotton, manganese ore and 2,000 boxes of silver coins.  After the sinking by torpedoes,  the survivors in three boats consisting of the Master and 154 survivors were eventually rescued on the morning of 19 November, by Clan Alpine, en route to St Helena. The survivors reported that there were three other boats at sea, but by now were unsure where they were.

Now the news is agog that the wreck has been discovered in 2011 and that £34 million of silver, a "large percentage" of the total, had been salvaged by September 2013. The money  so salvaged is reportedly shared between the UK Treasury and the salvors, Deep Ocean Search.  It generates interest to us as the cargo consisted of 100 tons of  Indian rupees belonging to UK Treasury !

Daily Mail reports that the vessel SS City of Cairo was travelling from Bombay to England in 1942 when it was torpedoed by a U-boat 480 miles south of St Helena, taking 100 tons of rupees with it to the bottom of the ocean.  A hoard of silver coins worth £34million that was sunk by the Nazis  which have now been salvaged by a British-led team at a record depth of 5,150m (17,000ft).

Underwater company Deep Ocean Search used powerful sonar to locate the vessel on the sea floor – a team led by British expert John Kingsford used pioneering techniques to track down the ship with powerful sonar and robotics.  Deep Ocean Search (DOS), which included 20 French oceanographers, was then contracted by the UK Ministry of Transport to recover the coins from a record depth of 17,000ft - some 4,500ft deeper than the Titanic.  A spokesman for DOS said: 'This was to be a difficult search as the water depth would exceed 5,000m, the weather, swell and currents were known to be challenging and the presumed site was some 1,000 miles from the nearest land in the foothills of the mid-Atlantic ridge.'

When the ship was finally discovered, it was 'broken in two and buried deep in the seafloor silt', adding that 'parts of the ship had metres of mud heaped upon it.'  The cargo consisted of Indian rupees,  belonging to the UK Treasury, were being transported from India to England when the ship sunk.  Maeva Onda, one of the oceanographers on board the salvage ship, SV John Lethbridge, said the search submarine was successful on its first dive.

'After two hours of underwater descent, the robot transmitted the first images of the wreck. It was incredible,' she told Le Figaro, as cited by the Daily Telegraph. The find was confirmed when the robot brought up coins stamped with the Crown.  But the team suffered 'serious' problems trying to recover the bulk of the hoard because of the depths involved. The spokesman for DOS said: 'The team quickly found that operating at this depth caused serious technical difficulties which were new to us and which had to be resolved, quickly.

'The combination of pressure, temperature, repeated dives at this depth and other issues resulted in multiple breakdowns of systems such as we had not experienced before when working in 3000m to 4000m depths.' The recovery took place in 2013, but has only now been made public. DOS has left a plaque commemorating their find on the sea bed.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar
Inputs taken from Wikipedia and Daily Mail
Photos courtesy :
PS :
1)       The current one rupee coin in circulation  weighs 4.85 grams and is made of Ferritic stainless steel (FSS) and has a diameter of 25 mm. The RBI says the total value of metal in a Re 1 coin will amount to just 70 paise when melted.

2)      Do not understand why Indian Rupee coins were being taken to UK – and how much of value it was when melted as against Re.1

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