First bars of sunken silver arrive in Odyssey's robotic hands - FOX 13 News

First bars of sunken silver arrive in Odyssey's robotic hands

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(Photo courtesy of Odyssey Marine) (Photo courtesy of Odyssey Marine)
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  • Treasure hunters plan salvage of WWII silver

    Treasure hunters plan salvage of WWII silver

    The latest discovery for a group of Tampa-based treasure hunters echoes back to the early days of World War II, when Nazi U-boats owned the water off Europe and targeted anything that sailed into their sights.
    The latest discovery for a group of Tampa-based treasure hunters echoes back to the early days of World War II, when Nazi U-boats owned the water off Europe and targeted anything that sailed into their sights.
TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Odyssey Marine, the Tampa-based treasure-hunting company, has done it again. They've recovering $200-million worth of silver from inside a British cargo ship, which sank during World War II.

And unlike last time, Odyssey won't have to surrender the loot to another country.

The folks at Odyssey Marine have successfully recovered about 48 tons of silver bullion, from three miles under the sea, as of Wednesday. And that was just the first batch from the S.S. Gairsoppa, a British cargo ship, which sank in February 1941.

The first sets of silver bars were surgically plucked from the Gairsoppa, using a giant robotic arm controlled by joysticks.

There were cheers and hugs, even a few tears as they celebrated aboard their ship, as the recovered silver bricks were loaded onto the deck.

"[I'm] very happy, very happy man," said Odyssey Senior Project Manager Andrew Craig, who had a huge smile plastered on his face. He and his team are on a boat off the coast of Ireland, where they're recovering silver from two modern-day shipwrecks, the Gairsoppa and the Mantola.

"The Gairsoppa is an interesting wreck. It was torpedoed by a U-boat in World War II.  It's reportedly up to seven-million in ounces of silver bullion, so at today's silver prices, north of $200 million of value there," said Odyssey President and C.O.O. Mark Gordon. He noted around 48 tons of silver bullion have been fished out so far.

During the war, the U.K. government insured privately owned cargo under their war risk insurance program. The government paid the silver owners what the lost loot was worth back in 1941, but then the government became its owner.

"Finding it was a milestone, and I think getting out here, getting started, it's kind of indescribable, it hasn't really sank in yet, that it's worked out," continued Craig. "And it's worked out in a place most people had written off."

Unlike the gold coins Odyssey was forced to surrender to the Spanish government recently, the British government contracted with Odyssey to do this recovery. Under the deal, Odyssey bears all the risk, but gets 80-percent of whatever they can haul to the surface, after recovering their expenses.

"When we dropped it into the basket, the way it moved through the water, it wasn't wood, it wasn't something light, there was some definite mass to it," said Craig.

Serial numbers and other markings on the silver bars all matched the insured silver's documentation, so they think the entire cargo may be intact.

And there may be more uninsured silver, so those numbers could rise.

"You never know until you get it on deck, but as soon as you saw the markings on it, it was like yeah, slam dunk," gushed Craig.

So far, more than 1,200 silver bars have been transported to a secure facility in the U.K. And that's only about 20 percent of what's still underwater.

After unloading the cargo, taking on fuel and changing personnel, recovery operations will continue and should be done in a couple of months.

This record-breaking operation has so far produced the heaviest and deepest recovery of precious metals from a shipwreck, ever.

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