Record dive rescues $50m wartime silver from ocean floor

The salvage operation recovered tens of tonnes of the silver coins from the seabedIn the deepest salvage operation in history, a British-led team has recovered a $50m (£34m; €47m) trove of coins that has lain on the seabed since the steamship carrying them from Bombay to England was sunk in 1942.

The SS City of Cairo was torpedoed 772km (480 miles) south of St Helena by a German U-boat and sank to 5,150m.

Its precious cargo – 100 tonnes of silver coins – belonged to HM Treasury.

The silver rupees had been called in by London to help fund the war effort.

But they never made it. The steamship’s tall plume of smoke was spotted by a U-boat on 6 November 1942 and it was torpedoed.

Ten minutes later, amid efforts to abandon ship, the City of Cairo was hit with a second torpedo which sealed its fate.

The ship and its cargo was presumed lost until 2011, when a team led by British salvage expert John Kingsford located an unnatural object among the ridges and canyons of their South Atlantic search area.

Under a contract with the UK government, underwater salvagers Deep Ocean Search (DOS) worked for several weeks searching a “jumbled up sea floor” twice the size of London, Mr Kingsford told the BBC.

“We weren’t convinced at first,” he said. “But you have to give your team their head if they say they’ve found something, so we looked.”

The object was indeed the City of Cairo, and the team recovered a “large percentage” of its £34 million treasure chest. “There was a lot a relief all round,” Mr Kingsford said.

The coins have now been melted down in the UK and sold, with the undisclosed sum divided between the treasury – which technically owns the coins – and the salvagers, who take a percentage of the sale.

The salvage was completed in September 2013, but DOS has only now been given permission by the Ministry of Transport to announce it.

–BBC

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