Hunting Nazi-Sunk Ship's $260M Silver

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"Odyssey has also signed deals to mine the South Pacific sea floor."

Odyssey
Odyssey's 8-ton remotely operated vehicle (ROV), "Zeus," is launched for descent to deep-ocean shipwrecks.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, the ocean salvager featured in the Discovery Channel series "Treasure Quest," is trying to recover silver valued at as much as $260 million from a ship torpedoed by a Nazi submarine in 1941.

The Tampa, Florida-based company was awarded a contract by the U.K. government last year that would allow it to keep about 80% of the bullion treasure of the S.S. Gairsoppa, a cargo steamer sunk by a German U-boat off the Irish coast. There's an estimated 4 million to 7 million ounces at the shipwreck site, according to Odyssey President and COO Mark Gordon.

"This is the year we're going to go out and find it," Gordon said in an interview. He said the cost of the search would be less than $10 million. "The total survey and recovery costs will be a fraction of the value," Gordon said.

Odyssey aims to salvage Gairsoppa's cargo from beneath as much as 14,000 feet of water amid surging prices for silver. The metal has more than doubled in the past year, and gold rose to a record last week. The company recovered 17 tons of gold and silver coins in 2007 in an Atlantic Ocean operation it codenamed Black Swan.

Odyssey's other salvaging targets include HMS Victory, which sank off England in 1744 carrying 100,000 ounces of gold, and the Enigma, Shantaram and Firebrand, three merchant ships estimated to have cargoes worth at least $50 million each, Gordon said.

Depending on the weather, hunting for the Gairsoppa may start as early as May using sonar, metal detectors and undersea robots, Gordon said. The wreck's condition will help determine how quickly the cargo can be extracted, he said.

Odyssey has also signed deals to mine the South Pacific sea floor. Companies such as Nautilus Minerals Inc., Neptune Minerals Plc and an AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. are seeking gold, copper and silver deposits with technology adapted from deepwater oil exploration.

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