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Treasure hunters seek WWII-era silver

Sept. 26, 2011 at 5:09 PM

LONDON, Sept. 26 (UPI) -- Treasure hunters say they have found the wreck of a World War II-era cargo ship off the cost of Ireland but so far not its 220 tons of silver.

The SS Gairsoppa, its crew of 84 men and its cargo of silver bullion (worth $232 million at today's prices), tea and iron were sent to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean by a German submarine in February 1941 en route from India to Liverpool, England.

The wreck was found this month with the help of an underwater robot used by Odyssey Marine Exploration, a U.S. firm that obtained the salvage contract from the British government last year, The Guardian reported Monday.

Odyssey gets to keep 80 percent of any booty it pulls up from the ocean depths.

"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," Odyssey senior project manager Andrew Craig told the British newspaper. "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."

Company chief executive Greg Stemm said he has "high confidence" the silver is there because the first glimpse of the shipwreck revealed tea chests reported to have been on board. He said the ship is sitting upright with its 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," Stemm said.

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