Silver Sunken treasure reminds investors about value

LONDON (July 28) It's been a brutal year for precious metals. Despite logging 12 consecutive annual gains, gold and silver are among the worst performing assets this year. Many analysts have lowered price targets, and proclaimed once again that the great bull market is dead. However, precious metals are still highly sought after, even at three miles below the ocean's surface.

Odyssey Marine Exploration, a world leader in deep-ocean shipwreck exploration, recently announced it recovered more than 61 tons of silver bullion from the North Atlantic this month. The haul consists of 1,574 silver ingots, weighing around 1,100 ounces each, or almost 1.8 million troy ounces in total. The treasure sets a new record for the deepest and largest precious metal recovery from a shipwreck.

The silver was aboard the SS Gairsoppa, a 412-foot steel-hulled British cargo ship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat, and sank in three miles of water off the coast of Ireland during World War II. Including the 48 tons of silver recovered last year, Odyssey has recovered 2,792 silver ingots from the SS Gairsoppa, or more than 99% of the insured silver reported to be on the ship when it sank. More uninsured silver may be aboard, but none has been found so far.    

"This was an extremely complex recovery, which was complicated by the sheer size and structure of the SS Gairsoppa, as well as its depth nearly three miles below the surface of the North Atlantic," commented Greg Stemm, Odyssey's CEO. "To add to the complications, the remaining insured silver was stored in a small compartment that was very difficult to access."

Companies such as Odyssey are willing to go to such great lengths to recover precious metals, because hard assets such as gold and silver tend to hold their value exceptionally well over the long-term.

The SS Gairsoppa sank in 1941, a year in which the average price for silver was 35 cents per ounce. However, the average price of silver was $31.15 per ounce last year — down from the previous year, but the second highest price level on record. Overall, Odyssey's silver haul of 110 tons from the SS Gairsoppa is worth about $77 million today.