SS Mantola WWI shipwreck reveals silver haul

SS Mantola
Image caption The SS Mantola was sunk in the North Atlantic less than a year after she was launched

A ship torpedoed during World War I while carrying a shipment of silver has been discovered 2,500m beneath the surface of the North Atlantic.

The SS Mantola sank in 1917, after being hit by German submarine U-81.

US firm Odyssey Marine Exploration located it off the south west coast of the Republic of Ireland, about 100 miles (160km) from where it found the SS Gairsoppa shipwreck last month.

It is estimated the Mantola is carrying more than 600,000 ounces of silver.

The silver would be worth about £12m at current market values.

The Gairsoppa contained an estimated seven million ounces of silver, said to be worth about £150m - the largest haul of precious metal ever discovered at sea.

It was during the recent expedition to search for the Gairsoppa, commissioned by the Department for Transport, that the Mantola was found.

The 450ft British flag steamer sailed from London on 4 February, 1917, bound for Calcutta in India. It was carrying 165 crew and 18 passengers, and the consignment of silver was among its general cargo.

It was torpedoed by German submarine U-81 on 8 February. All of those on board survived, apart from seven people who died when their lifeboat capsized.

An unsuccessful attempt was made to tow the Mantola before she eventually sank on 9 February, less than a year after she was launched.

Taking risks

The Ministry of War Transport paid out a war risk insurance claim for £110,000 - in 1917 value - for the silver that was on board the Mantola.

The Department for Transport awarded Odyssey a salvage contract in September of this year for the ship's cargo.

Under the agreement, Odyssey will retain 80% of the net silver value recovered.

A DfT spokesperson said: "The contract for the salvage of the SS Mantola was awarded to Odyssey Marine Exploration after they discovered the wreck during their search for the SS Gairsoppa.

"While we do not comment on the specifics of such commercial arrangements, the rate of return on this contract is higher than average, with the salvage company taking all the risks and upfront costs."

The firm is planning to conduct the recovery expedition in conjunction with the recovery of the Gairsoppa, sunk by a German U-boat in 1941, and found 300 miles off the coast of Ireland.

The Gairsoppa was on its way back to Britain from India when it ran low on fuel in stormy weather, and tried to divert to Galway harbour, but it was spotted and sunk by the German submarine.

Greg Stemm, Odyssey's CEO, said: "The Mantola project is located at a depth range that we have a lot of experience in.

"We have information on the location of the cargo that should make this a great target for testing some new technology, that will be useful for a number of new deep-ocean projects we have planned."

Odyssey has begun assembling the necessary equipment for the salvage expedition for the Gairsoppa and Mantola, and is expected to begin its salvage work in the spring of next year.

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