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19 Jul, 2012 10:03

Shipwreck’s silver lining: Russian vessel helps recover record 48 tons of bullion

The largest treasure trove of silver recovered from a shipwreck in history – 48 tons of it – has been completed near Ireland. A Russian vessel helped locate the British cargo ship that was sunk by a torpedo during World War II.

So far, the workers have brought up more than 1,200 silver bars or about 1.4 million troy ounces – an estimated 43 per cent of the total lost silver treasure. As of mid-day Wednesday, it was worth about 23.7 million pounds (about $37 million). The company, an American-based Odyssey Marine Exploration specializing in shipwreck exploration, hopes to recover the balance of the silver within 90 days.On its website it says the shipwreck was located using the MAK-1M deep-tow low frequency sonar system aboard the Russian research vessel RV Yuzhmorgeologiya. Visual inspection of the site was conducted with a remotely operated vehicle. The rescue has been going on for the better part of a year. The haul from a 4,700 meter depth below the surface of the North Atlantic started on May 31. The silver has now been transported to a secure location within the UK.The haul comes from the SS Gairsoppa merchant ship, which was sailing off the coast of Galway in Ireland when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat 483 kilometers off the coast and sank in February 1941.  Eighty-three crew and two gunners were aboard the ship when the German attack ensued. The British and Indian sailors abandoned ship as they were being fired on by the Germans, and only one person survived. Reports suggest Second Officer R.H Ayres washed up near Galway bay after spending 13 days in a lifeboat. Since the UK government had insured the privately owned cargo under the War Risk Insurance program, it had paid out the owners for the lost silver, thus becoming the rightful owners of the lost cargo.The Government gave Odyssey Marine Exploration the contract to locate the ship several years ago.  The company will keep 80 per cent of the haul in return for conducting the complicated search and recovery mission. The government will receive 20 per cent of the value of the haul. The share allotted to the Russian “Yuzhmorgeologiya” assistant vessel has not been revealed.