Precious Coins Recovered from Seafloor

Tons of silver retrieved from World War II vessel

Apr 16, 2015
Outside Magazine
Precious Coins Recovered from Seafloor

The approximately $50 million worth of silver coins was retrieved in a record-size operation.    Deep Ocean Search

A cache of 100 tons of silver, said to be worth approximately $50 million in present-day currency, has been recovered from the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, according to the BBC. Deep Ocean Search, an underwater surveying company, says the 17,000-foot depth at which the cargo was retrieved is a new world record for an operation of its kind, according to a press release.

Though the coins were brought to the surface in September 2013, Deep Ocean Search has waited until this week to announce its success, on orders from the British government. The company’s project brings to a conclusion, of sorts, a journey that began in 1942, when the SS City of Cairo sought to travel from India to England with 296 civilians and cargo considered valuable to the war effort. On November 6 of that year, a German U-boat spotted and torpedoed the ship twice, prompting calls to abandon ship.

Ultimately, 104 people perished before reaching land or being picked up by lifeboats bound for South Africa or Brazil, according to Deep Ocean Search’s website. In his book about the attack, author Ralph Barker quotes U-boat captain Karl-Freidrich Merten’s parting words for the passengers of the City of Cairo, most of whom made it to lifeboats before the ship sank: “Goodnight. Sorry for sinking you.” 

During a 2011 search, divers working for Deep Ocean Search encountered a small, unreflective object near the coordinates of the ship that had been left by German submarine records and the ship’s own crew. It turned out to be the remains of the City of Cairo, though covered in parts by several feet of silt and mud. Besides the silver, Deep Ocean Search says it also retrieved the end section of the second torpedo to strike the ship, whose contra-rotating propellers were still visible.

Deep Ocean Search has taken a small percentage of the value of the coins, which the British treasury melted and sold for an undisclosed sum.