Former Premier David Saul is co-founder of the company that owns the Odyssey Explorer which found the massive cargo of silver on a sunken merchant ship. *Photo supplied
Former Premier David Saul is co-founder of the company that owns the Odyssey Explorer which found the massive cargo of silver on a sunken merchant ship. *Photo supplied
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WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28: An underwater exploration firm co-founded by former Premier David Saul has found more than $233 million in silver — the biggest-ever haul of precious metal from a shipwreck.

Odyssey Marine, which numbers Dr Saul among its directors, found the massive cargo of silver on a merchant ship sunk by a German U-boat in 1941.

Dr Saul said: “It’s a very exciting find — but the recovery is going to be the tricky part. It’s extremely deep and it will be an enormous challenge.

“Working in this area has been more fun than you can imagine — and there are more wrecks, equally important in terms of history and value, that we’ve been contracted to find and salvage.”

The SS Gairsoppa, which belonged to the British India Steam Navigation Company, was sunk in the North Atlantic off the coast of Galway, Ireland.

The ship was on its way to the UK when it ran low on fuel in stormy weather and tried to divert to the then-Eire (Ireland) when it was spotted by the German submarine U-101 and torpedoed.

The wreck of the 412ft ship was found this summer, nearly three miles (4700m) beneath the waves and 300 miles off the Irish coast.

But the ship was only identified as the bullion-laden Gairsoppa last week.

The salvage of the silver is likely to begin next spring.

Odyssey’s senior project manager Andrew Craig said: “We’ve accomplished the first phase of this project — the location and identification of the target shipwreck.

“Now we’re hard at work on the recovery phase. Give 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.”

Salvage agreement

Under the terms of a salvage agreement with the UK government, Odyssey will keep 80 per cent of the value of the cargo — $186.4 million.

Odyssey was founded by Dr Saul and two wealthy US businessmen after he met at them at New York’s Explorers’ Club and found they shared a love of the sea and wreck-hunting.

The firm uses high technology developed by the US military, which became available for civilian use after the end of the Cold War.

A total of 32 of the 85 crew aboard the Gairsoppa made it to the lifeboats, but only three sailors made it to the coast of Cornwall, England, around two weeks later.

Two died making it to shore, leaving Second Officer Richard Ayres as the only crewman to survive the attack. Second Officer Ayres survived the war and died in 1992.