Odyssey Confirms Discovery of SS Gairsoppa Shipwreck

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Largest Known Silver Shipwreck Cargo to be Recovered Under UK Government Contract.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. (Nasdaq:OMEX) announced today that it has confirmed the identity and location of the shipwreck site of the SS Gairsoppa nearly 4,700 meters below the surface of the North Atlantic, approximately 300 miles off the coast of Ireland in international waters. The SS Gairsoppa was a 412-foot steel-hulled British cargo ship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat in February 1941 while enlisted in the service of the United Kingdom (UK) Ministry of War Transport.

Contemporary research and official documents indicate that the ship was carrying £600,000 (1941 value) or 7 Million total ounces of silver, including over 3 Million ounces of private silver bullion insured by the UK government which would make it the largest known precious metal cargo ever recovered from the sea. In 2010, the UK Government Department for Transport awarded Odyssey, through a competitive tender process, the exclusive salvage contract for the cargo of the SS Gairsoppa. Under the salvage agreement Odyssey will retain 80% of the net salved value of the silver bullion recovered under the contract.

 

The Odyssey team recently conducted ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) operations from the RV Odyssey Explorer to inspect the site. The video and photographs acquired during the exploration of the shipwreck were reviewed and analyzed at length to confirm the identity of the shipwreck as that of the SS Gairsoppa. The expedition and resulting data was also used to evaluate the condition of the shipwreck and to begin planning for recovery operations.

“Once again, our stellar marine operations team has delivered outstanding results. Under the direction of Senior Project Manager Andrew Craig, the target was located with side-scan sonar and then visually inspected in less than two months from the start of the operation,” stated Mark Gordon, Odyssey President and COO.

“WE’VE ACCOMPLISHED THE FIRST PHASE OF THIS PROJECT – THE LOCATION AND IDENTIFICATION OF THE TARGET SHIPWRECK – AND NOW WE’RE HARD AT WORK PLANNING FOR THE RECOVERY PHASE,” SAID ANDREW CRAIG, ODYSSEY SENIOR PROJECT MANAGER. “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.”

A number of consultants, who have combined experience salvaging scores of modern steel-hulled shipwrecks, are advising Odyssey on the project. Among other ground-breaking projects, one of the companies has successfully penetrated four decks of a large steel-hulled shipwreck at a depth of nearly 3,000 meters in order to completely empty the mail room. In addition, several Odyssey team members have experience with modern salvage to depths of nearly 6,000 meters on military and government missions.

“While some people might wonder about the potential complexity of salvage at this depth, we have already conducted a thorough analysis of the best tools and techniques to conduct this operation and are confident that the salvage will be conducted efficiently and on a timely basis,” commented Greg Stemm, Odyssey CEO. “Hundreds of modern cargo ships like this have been salvaged since the mid-20th century, some at depths of thousands of meters. We were fortunate to find the shipwreck sitting upright, with the holds open and easily accessible. This should enable us to unload cargo through the hatches as would happen with a floating ship alongside a cargo terminal.”

Odyssey has begun the process of specifying and assembling the tools and equipment for the salvage, and anticipates that operations will begin in the spring as soon as the weather window begins to open up in the North Atlantic. The system being mobilized for modern salvage recovery can also be used on other projects, several of which are in various stages of exploration or confirmation at this time.

The company also has several other projects and contracts that will potentially begin during the balance of this working season and may be conducted through the winter months. Some of these projects are also in partnership with governments and will feature pre-negotiated salvage awards.

About Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. (Nasdaq:OMEX) is engaged in deep-ocean exploration using innovative methods and state-of-the-art technology. The Company is a world leader in shipwreck exploration, conducting extensive search and archaeological recovery operations on deep-ocean shipwrecks around the world. Odyssey also has a minority ownership stake in Neptune Minerals, a company focused on discovering and commercializing high-value mineral deposits from the ocean floor, and provides proprietary deep-ocean expertise and equipment to Neptune under contract. Odyssey also provides deep-ocean contracting services to governments and companies around the world.

Odyssey discovered the Civil War-era shipwreck of the SS Republic® in 2003 and recovered over 50,000 coins and 14,000 artifacts from the site nearly 1,700 feet deep. In May 2007, Odyssey announced the historic deep-ocean treasure recovery of over 500,000 silver and gold coins, weighing 17 tons, from a Colonial era site code-named “Black Swan.” In February 2009, Odyssey announced the discovery of Balchin’s HMS Victory. Odyssey also has other shipwreck projects in various stages of development around the world.

Odyssey offers various ways to share in the excitement of deep-ocean exploration by making shipwreck treasures and artifacts available to collectors, the general public and students through its webstore, exhibits, books, television, merchandise, educational programs and virtual museum located at www.odysseysvirtualmuseum.com.

Odyssey’s shipwreck operations are the subject of a Discovery Channel television series titled “Treasure Quest,” produced by JWM Productions. The 12-episode first season aired worldwide in 2009.

Following previous successful engagements in New Orleans, Tampa, Detroit, Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Baltimore and Sarasota, Odyssey’s SHIPWRECK! exhibit will open at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, TX on October 1, 2011.

For details on Odyssey’s activities and its commitment to the preservation of maritime heritage please visit www.shipwreck.net.

SS Gairsoppa Historical Overview

The SS Gairsoppa was a steel-hulled British cargo steamship that began her career in 1919 under the service of the British India Steam Navigation Company Ltd. of London. She was engaged in commercial shipping activity in the waters of the Far East, Australia, India and East Africa. By 1940, the SS Gairsoppa was enlisted in the service of the UK Ministry of War Transport and subsequently sunk in February 1941 by a German U-boat.

The Gairsoppa was built at Palmer’s Co, Newcastle in 1919 and launched on August 12 as the War Roebuck, but was renamed in October to Gairsoppa in honor of the stunning waterfalls in southwest India of the same name. The ship was 412 feet in length with a beam of 52.2 feet (width), 28.5 feet in depth and weighed 5,237 tons. The Gairsoppa joined the British India Steam Navigation Company fleet transporting valuable cargo through the waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

In 1931, with war looming, the UK Director of Sea Transport of the Admiralty approached the British India Steam Navigation Company and requested passenger vessels to join the British naval fleet in times of national emergency. By Easter 1940, the entire fleet of 103 British India Steam Navigation Company ships was under the orders of the UK Admiralty and the Ministry of War transport. Of these, 51 ships with 1,083 lives were lost by the end of WWII.

The Gairsoppa’s final voyage began in Calcutta, India in December 1940 loaded with nearly 7,000 tons of diverse medium and high-value cargo, including pig iron, tea, general cargo, and a large quantity of silver. She joined convoy SL 64 in Freetown, Sierra Leone (West Africa), which departed for Liverpool, UK on January 31, 1941 without a military escort. Many of the merchant ships in the convoy were in such a poor state of repair that they could only achieve a maximum speed of 8 knots.

The Gairsoppa and convoy SL-64 sailed the dangerous waters of the Atlantic, intending to rendezvous with convoy HG-63, which was escorted by two warships. Before they could join its ranks, HG 63 was attacked by U-boat U-37, and lost seven ships. As convoy SL-64 reached the northern latitudes, the Gairsoppa, loaded down with a heavy cargo, was forced to further reduce speed due to high winds and ocean swells. As the weather worsened on February 14, 1941, the Gairsoppa, running low on coal and with insufficient fuel to keep up with the convoy, was forced to sail on alone without the protection of the convoy and headed for Galway in western Ireland.

On 17 February 1941, Captain Ernst Mengersen submerged his 66.5 meter-long U-boat U-101, which carried 14 torpedoes and 26 mines, and moved in for the attack. By the end of the war, Mengersen had sunk over 70,000 tons of shipping, most of it British merchantmen. Four torpedoes were fired, one hitting its mark. Around 22.30 hours an explosion occurred in the Gairsoppa’s no. 2 hold. The impact of just one torpedo caused the foremast to crash onto the deck, snapping the wireless antennae and cutting the ship off from the outside world, so no distress call could be sent. Water began to wash over her bow and the forecastle was quickly submerged. The bow continued to sink, propelling the stern clear out of the water. Shortly after the attack, the Gairsoppa slipped deep into the icy waters of the North Atlantic Sea.

According to Lloyd’s War losses, 83 crew members and 2 gunners were aboard the Gairsoppa when she was hit by a torpedo. The crew of British and East Indian sailors abandoned ship under U-boat machine gun fire, but only one person, Second Officer, Mr. R.H. Ayres survived the long journey to shore after thirteen days in a lifeboat.

Header Image Credit : Tim Green

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