In February of 1941 a British merchant vessel, carrying Silver, named the SS Gairsoppa was torpedoed by a German submarine 300 miles off the coast of Ireland in international waters. Ships that carries the type of cargo that she was carrying is normally escorted by a military ship for protection. As they were sailing the Gairsoppa was running low on fuel and due to strong headwinds, heavy cargo and high seas it needed to leave her convoy and head for Galway harbor for fuel. Shortly thereafter is when the attack occurred.
The ship was on its way home from India with 7,000 tons of cargo which included tea, pig iron and silver. On February 16th German sub U-101 hit the ship with a torpedo just behind the bridge causing it to sink in 20 minutes.
85 crewmen were left stranded, 32 men made it into lifeboats, only one survived. Richard Ayres the second officer on the ship made it to shore 13 days after the attack at the Lizard Lighthouse in Cornwall.
In 1989 the British government invited prospects the opportunity to find and salvage the ship. Nearly 20 years later in January of 2010, the government awarded a two-year contract to a US based company called Odyssey Marine Exploration (the highest bidder) to find and salvage the ship. Almost two years into the search, Odyssey announced that it had found and indentified the SS Gairsoppa 4,700 meters below the surface.
“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,” said Odyssey senior project manager Andrew Craig.
The ship is said to contain 7 million ounces (219 tons) of silver worth around $210 million, which is down over 25% due to silver’s recent pullback. Odyssey is contracted to receive 80% of the haul’s value with 20% going to the British government. The operation is scheduled to begin in the spring of 2012 to recover the bullion silver.