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The remains of the Gairsoppa An American company discovered the 70-year-old remains of British ship the SS Gairsoppa, which may hold up to $240 million worth of sunken treasure. (All photos courtesy Odyssey Marine Exploration, www.shipwreck.net)

A Real-Life Treasure Hunt

U.S. explorers find a shipwreck that may hold $240 million in silver

By Natalie Smith | October 4 , 2011
<p>PHOTO: Reseachers identified the SS Gairsoppa by its markings and a hole left by the German torpedo that sank the ship. </p><p> MAP: The <i>Gairsoppa</i> sank about 300 miles southwest of Ireland. <br />(Jim McMahon)</p>

PHOTO: Reseachers identified the SS Gairsoppa by its markings and a hole left by the German torpedo that sank the ship.

MAP: The Gairsoppa sank about 300 miles southwest of Ireland.
(Jim McMahon)

On a stormy night in 1941, a British ship traveling from India to England was struck by a torpedo from a German submarine. The ship disappeared underwater, along with the 240 tons of silver it carried. For 70 years, the location of the ship, named the SS Gairsoppa, was unknown. Now a deep-sea exploration company says it has solved the mystery of the sunken silver.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, based in the U.S., says it has found the wreckage of the Gairsoppa. The company recently sent a deep-sea robot nearly three miles down into the dark waters of the Atlantic Ocean. On the muddy seafloor, the robot located the ship, which experts identified by its markings and the torpedo hole in its side. Odyssey says it has confirmed that the shipwreck is the long-lost Gairsoppa.

Although the exploration company has revealed the general location of the ship, it is keeping the exact coordinates a secret. Why? Experts estimate that the silver on board, likely in bars and coins, is worth about $240 million. Odyssey plans to begin recovering the silver next spring. If successful, it would be the biggest recovery of valuables lost at sea, from the greatest depth ever.

A CASUALTY OF WAR

Built in 1919, the Gairsoppa was a British merchant ship (a ship involved in trading goods) that was in service during World War II (1939-1945). During the war, Great Britain fought on the side of the Allies, which included the United States and the Soviet Union. They fought against the Axis powers: Germany, Japan, and Italy.

On February 16, 1941, the Gairsoppa was carrying iron, tea, and silver to England when it sailed into a heavy storm. Running low on fuel, the ship headed for Ireland. On the way, it was attacked by a German U-boat, or submarine. The Gairsoppa went down about 300 miles southwest of Ireland. All but one of its 85 crew members died.

“By finding this shipwreck and telling the story of its loss,” says Neil Dobson, a researcher with Odyssey, “we pay tribute to the brave merchant sailors who lost their lives.”

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