Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Technology Frees Wartime Silver Trove from Ocean Depths

Newspaper article International Herald Tribune

Technology Frees Wartime Silver Trove from Ocean Depths

Article excerpt

Recent advances let a recovery company bring 48 tons of silver bullion that spent more than 70 years at the bottom of the North Atlantic to the surface.

It doesn't glisten, but it does have a story to tell.

Forty-eight tons of silver bullion that spent more than 70 years at the bottom of the North Atlantic has been hauled to the surface and returned to its rightful owner, the British government, according to the company that recovered it. And much more will be on its way soon.

The silver was recovered from the Gairsoppa, which was carrying the riches from India to England in 1941 when a German torpedo struck the ship. The boat went down about 300 miles, or 480 kilometers, southwest of Ireland in water 2.9 miles deep -- lower than the resting place of the Titanic.

On Wednesday, a maritime recovery company, Odyssey Marine Exploration of Tampa, Florida, said it had succeeded in removing about 43 percent of the insured silver aboard the rusting hulk and 20 percent of the total silver that its research indicated might be on board. The company said it planned to return quickly for another round of recovery.

Greg Stemm, the chief executive of Odyssey, said it was the heaviest and deepest cargo of precious metal ever lifted from a shipwreck. The haul, he said, demonstrates that marine technologies have improved to the point that no sunken ship is too deep and no cargo too large for retrieval.

"People have been worried about the technology," Mr. Stemm said in an interview. "This shows that we have it under control. We can pick up large amounts of silver."

Riches found in the deep sea often lie undisturbed because lifting them is too difficult. In 1995, treasure hunters located a lost submarine carrying two tons of gold. It remains on the bottom of the Atlantic.

But Odyssey is under contract to the British government, which took possession of the recovered silver Wednesday. A total of 1,203 silver bars were offloaded at Bristol, England, and taken by three large trucks to an undisclosed location for storage and processing.

Mr. Stemm said the old bars exhibited none of the shimmering patina usually associated with fresh silver. "It's been under water so long," he said, "it could be mistaken for iron."

Odyssey invested its own money in finding the ship and will split the profit, with the company getting 80 percent of the silver's value and the British government 20 percent. The company -- which is listed on the Nasdaq exchange and announced the recovery of the 48 tons of silver before trading began Wednesday -- disclosed the discovery of the shipwreck last autumn.

At market value Wednesday, the 1.4 million troy ounces of silver recovered so far would fetch about $38 million.

Odyssey said the Gairsoppa might hold as much as 240 tons of silver, which could bring as much as $190 million at current rates. …

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