Odyssey Marine Exploration (shipwreck.net), based in Tampa, Florida, announced the find of the silver-laden, British-flagged SS Gairsoppa.
Some 300 miles off the coast of Ireland in international waters, the shipwreck site is located approximately 4,700 meters (almost 3 miles) below the surface, making the pending recovery one of the most complex operations ever undertaken.
At stake is an estimated 7 million ounces of silver, but the silver was just part of the cargo carried by the SS Gairsoppa when she was sunk.
The SS Gairsoppa was owned by the British India Steam Navigation Company and had been enlisted into service of the UK Ministry of War Transport during World War II. The ship was en route back from Calcutta, India when she was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1941.
Thirty two crew members of the Gairsoppa were believed to have boarded life-boats before the ship went under. However, only one survived the harsh conditions of the North Atlantic and made it to land.
"By finding this shipwreck, and telling the story of its loss, we pay tribute to the brave merchant sailors who lost their lives," commented Neil Cunningham Dobson, Odyssey’s Principal Marine Archaeologist.
Once recovery operations begin, Odyssey is entitled to 80% of any salvaged silver bullion. This agreement was awarded to Odyssey by the UK Government Department for Transport in 2010 after a competitive bid process was completed.
With the salvage award agreement in hand, Odyssey began explorations of the 412-foot steel-hulled ship earlier this year. Using a ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle), the company was able to confirm the location and identity of the shipwreck and provided imagery indicating the SS Gairsoppa settled at the bottom of the ocean in an upright position with its holds open.
"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 Andrew Craig, Odyssey Senior Project Manager.
Odyssey expects to initiate recovery operations of the sunken treasure in the spring of 2012.
The following is an Odyssey video of the SS Gairsoppa shipwreck site: