The Silver Shipwreck: $38 Million on the Ocean Floor

It’s the dream of every treasure hunter who’s ever scoured the local beach with a metal detector: the big score. And Odyssey Marine Exploration has pulled in its biggest haul yet — and reportedly the largest precious metal recovery in history — from the bottom of the North Atlantic. The Florida-based marine salvage company recovered 61 tons of silver from the wreck of the British ship the SS Gairsoppa, which was sunk by a German U-boat in 1941.

The story of the Gairsoppa begins back in 1919 when the 412-foot, steel-hulled cargo steamship plied the waters of the Far East, Australia, India and East Africa in the service of the British India Steam Navigation Company of London. Returning from Calcutta, India, in 1941, the ship joined a convoy off the coast of West Africa for protection from roving German submarines. However, a lack of coal forced the Gairsoppa to drop out of the convoy and it was eventually torpedoed off the coast of Ireland. One member of the crew survived after a harrowing 13-day journey on a lifeboat on the stormy North Atlantic seas.

On her last voyage, the Gairsoppa carried a variety of cargo, but the most valuable was a large quantity of silver owned by the British government. That silver remained underwater until 2011 when Odyssey Marine Exploration located the ship. The company pulled about 48 tons of silver from the ship in 2012 — and just recovered another 1,574 silver ingots weighing about 1,100 ounces each from more than three miles below the ocean’s surface. A spokesperson for the company calls the find “the deepest and largest precious metal recovery from a shipwreck.” At today’s silver prices, the bullion is worth more than $38 million, of which Odyssey Marine gets to keep 80 percent (the rest goes back to the British government).

It doesn’t always work out so well for marine salvage companies, however. In 2007, Odyssey Marine Exploration hauled up nearly $500 million in gold and silver bullion from the ocean floor off the coast of Portugal. After they brought it up, the Spanish government claimed that the gold and silver came from a Spanish ship sunk in 1804. Odyssey denied this, but in 2009, a U.S. court ruled that the bullion came from the Spanish ship Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes — and must be returned to Spain.

While potentially lucrative, precious metal salvage is difficult, specialized work — but you don’t need to be a marine salvage expert to appreciate the beauty and value of silver, gold and other precious metals. If you’re considering investing in gold bullion or silver bullion — or have gold coins or silver coins that you’d like to sell — come talk to the precious metal experts at Liberty Coin & Currency in Portland and Vancouver.

Liberty Coin & Currency specializes in gold buying and dealing in rare coins. We are a family-owned business that was first established over 16 years ago and is now located in Vancouver and Portland. We also buy gold, silver, diamonds, currency and jewelry. Visit us first for a free evaluation.