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Treasure Ship Gairsoppa Found In North Atlantic

By James Donahue

The wreck of the cargo ship Gairsoppa containing a treasure in silver was recently found and identified deep in the North Atlantic, some 300 miles off the Irish coast. Even though the 412-foot ship lies in 6,500 feet of water, Odyssey Marine, a US exploration company, says it plans to attempt to recover the silver using robotic submarines in 2012.

The ship’s manifest indicated the Gairsoppa was carrying 200 tons of silver, bound in convoy from India to Britain, when it was sunk by a German U-boat. It is believed to be the largest haul of precious metal ever found at sea.

The Gairsoppa, commanded by Captain Gerald Hyland, was also carrying pig iron and tea when it was sunk on February 17, 1941. The ship had been traveling in           convoy but broke away from the other vessels when it ran low on coal in heavy weather off the coast of Ireland.

Hyland set a course for Galway Harbor for fuel but the Gairsoppa never arrived. It was spotted by U-101, commanded by Ernst Mengersen. The old ship sank 20 minutes after it was struck on the starboard side by a single torpedo.

There was only one survivor. Second Officer R. H. Ayres and two other crew members made the perilous trip to the Cornish coast two weeks later in an open boat. The two other sailors died trying to get to shore.

The Gairsoppa was built in 1919 at Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Company, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England for the British-India Steam Navigation Company. It was taken over by the British government for the war effort during World War II.