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WWII Lost Silver Recovered From Ocean Floor

Deep Ocean Search, or DOS, is a British company specialising in ultra-deep water recovery, and recently announced the recovery of a treasure trove that has lain on the seafloor since late 1942.

On 6 November, 1942, the SS City of Cairo was travelling from Bombay to the UK, via Cape Town and Brazil. The steamship was carrying silver that had been called to London, to help with the war effort during World War II.

Around 480 miles (770km) south of St Helena, the ship, which had been carrying 311 people, was struck by a torpedo, shot from a German U-boat.

The people aboard the ship scrambled to escape, with most of them making it away in lifeboats. Ten minutes after the first strike though, a second, fatal hit shook the City of Cairo, killing six people.

Weeks later, after everyone who could have been rescued had been, there were only 207 people left who had been on board the ship when it had been torpedoed. The silver the ship had been transporting sank into the waters, presumably never to be seen again.

By 2011, the ship and its cargo still hadn’t been found and thought lost forever. Under contract with the UK government, DOS had been working for several weeks, searching an expanse of seafloor twice the size of London, located in the South Atlantic.

During this search, using sonar and other pioneering technologies, the team spotted an unnatural object buried deep in the seabed, almost completely covered.

The ship and its cargo was still presumed lost until 2011, when the DOS team, led by John Kingston, located an unnatural object. Under contract with the UK government, DOS had been working for several weeks, searching an expanse of sea floor twice the size of London, located in the South Atlantic.

“We weren’t convinced at first,” explained Mr Kingston, “but you have to give your team their head if they say they have found something, so we looked.”

What the team had found was the ship, broken in two, along with the coins, and a propeller from one of the torpedoes.

A spokesperson for DOS explained that it was a difficult search. “The water depth would exceed 5,000km [16,400ft],” he said, explaining that this was even deeper than Titanic had sunken, and would put this recovery into the record books.

There were also the added complications of the weather and currents, that were known to be challenging in the area, as well as being around 1,000 miles (1610km) from the nearest land.

Because of all of these conditions, which resulted in multiple systems breaking down, and because of the large amount of treasure the team was trying to recover, they seriously struggled with hauling it to the surface.

The silver being hauled to the surface

In the end, though, the team was able to recover a good percentage of the silver, around 100 tonnes, that belonged to HM Treasury. It saw the light of day for the first time in almost 70 years in September 2013

The lost silver was brought to the surface in September 2013, almost 70 years after it sunk. Before leaving the wreckage for the final time, the team honoured those who lost their lives that night, with a plaque, “We came here with respect.”

DOS have only just been permitted to announce the finding, but since then, the coins have been brought back to the UK, melted down and sold on. As the silver belonged to the Treasury in the first place, the money was split between the finance ministry and DOS, which gets a percentage of the sale of items they recover.

“It was a special salvage,” explained Mr Kingston. “It was an emotive case, where over a hundred people were lost… It meant a lot to our team to find this ship and remember it.”


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