U.S. firm finds British shipwreck full of silver

TAMPA, Florida Mon Sep 26, 2011 6:50pm EDT

TAMPA, Florida (Reuters) - U.S. salvage company Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc said on Monday it had found the sunken wreckage of a British cargo ship filled with silver in the Atlantic Ocean, where it was torpedoed by the Germans during the Second World War.

The wreckage of the S.S. Gairsoppa was found in international waters 300 miles off the coast of Ireland, at a depth of 15,510 feet, the Tampa, Florida, company said.

The Gairsoppa sank on February 17, 1941, after it was hit by a torpedo from a German U-Boat. Only one of the 85 men on board survived.

The 412-foot (125-meter) ship was carrying cargo for the British Ministry of War Transportation when it was sunk.

Its cargo included about 7 million ounces of silver, the company said in a statement, which would make it the largest known cargo of precious metal ever recovered from the sea.

Odyssey Marine was awarded a salvage contract by the British government in 2010. Under the contract, the company will retain 80 percent of the net salvaged value of the silver bullion.

The ship was located using sonar, and a remotely controlled vehicle was used to send pictures of the wreckage to the surface.

"Given the orientation and condition of the shipwreck, we are extremely confident that our planned salvage operation will be suited for the recovery of this silver cargo," Andrew Craig, the Odyssey Marine recovery manager, said in a statement.

Recovery operations are expected to begin in the spring, the company said.

Odyssey Marine has been in a legal battle with Spain over 500,000 gold and silver coins it discovered in the Atlantic Ocean in 2007. Spain says the coins came from a Spanish ship that sank in 1804, Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes.

A U.S. appeals court ruled last week that U.S. courts had no jurisdiction in the case and it should be decided in Spain. Odyssey Marine is appealing.

(Editing by Jane Sutton and Todd Eastham)

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