Tampa's sunken treasure hunting firm Odyssey Marine Exploration has recovered its largest haul yet, a record-setting 61 tons of silver bullion from the bottom of the North Atlantic.
Odyssey Marine said the recovery of the silver from the sunken British cargo ship SS Gairsoppa is reportedly the largest precious metal recovery in history.
Odyssey retrieved the treasure from a depth of 3 miles below the surface, also a record.
"This was an extremely complex recovery which was complicated by the sheer size and structure of the SS Gairsoppa as well as its depth nearly 3 miles below the surface of the North Atlantic," said Greg Stemm, Odyssey's chief executive officer, in a news release.
In 2010, the United Kingdom Department for Transport awarded Odyssey Marine the exclusive salvage contract for the cargo of the Gairsoppa. In September 2011, the company announced that it had found the ship.
Under a contract with the British government, the Odyssey will retain 80 percent of the value of the silver it recovers, estimated at $210 million.
"We have accomplished a world-record recovery at a depth never achieved before," Mark Gordon, Odyssey's president and chief operating officer, said in the release. "We're continuing to apply our unique expertise to pioneer deep-ocean projects that result in the discovery and recovery of lost cultural heritage, valuable cargoes and important and needed natural resources."
The Gairsoppa, a 412-foot steel-hulled British cargo steamship, began its career in 1919 under the service of the British India Steam Navigation Co. of London. It was engaged in commercial shipping activity in the waters of the Far East, Australia, India and East Africa.
The ship began its final voyage in December 1940 in Calcutta, India, loaded with nearly 7,000 tons of diverse and high-value cargo, including tea and a large quantity of silver that belonged to the British government. The ship joined a convoy in West Africa. Many of the merchant ships in the convoy were in a state of disrepair.
High winds and ocean swells forced the Gairsoppa to slow down. As the weather grew worse and the ship began running low on coal, it began sailing alone, without the protection of the convoy.
A German U-boat attacked the lone ship, spraying the Gairsoppa's 83-member crew and two gunners with heavy machine gun fire. One of four torpedoes fired from the U-boat struck the Gairsoppa, sinking it into the icy waters of the North Atlantic on Feb. 17, 1941. A lone crew member survived the attack, sailing in a lifeboat for 13 days back to shore.
Odyssey's stock price was down about 3 percent to $3.35 when trading ended Monday.
Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.