by Björn Schöpe
translated by Annika Backe
April 23, 2015 – In the middle of April, Deep Ocean Search (DOS), a company specialized in deep-sea salvages, made a spectacular project public: already in 2013, the experts had recovered tons of silver coins at a depth of about 5100 meters in the sea off the Namibian coast – a record.
In autumn 1942, the passenger ship SS City of Cairo was on her way from Bombay to London, via South Africa and Brazil. She not only transported civilians but likewise carried 100 tons of silver coins which England had ordered from the Indian crown colony to fund the war against Germany.
The steamship was torpedoed by the German submarine U68 without warning on high sea, about 770 kilometers south of St. Helena and 1000 kilometers off the Namibian coast. Almost all passengers managed to get into the life boats before a second torpedo hit the ship and sunk it immediately. The German captain directed the survivors to the nearest land and embarked with the following words: “Goodnight. Sorry for sinking you.” Of the approximately 300 passengers more than 100 died in the following weeks.
The scene of event had been unknown for more than 70 years. In 2011, a team of Deep Ocean Search experts searched for the wreck for weeks in an area twice the size of London. Thanks to latest sonar technology, they indeed found an object, which, however, seemed far too small at first. But when a miniature robot sent pictures to the surface it became clear: it really was the wreck of the SS City of Cairo, broken in two.
The company then worked for months on end, under contract to the UK Ministry of Transport. Although the salvage was completed in September 2013, the Ministry of Transport has given DOS permission to make the project public only a few days ago.
The salvage was achieved under difficult conditions and breaks a new record in terms of depth. Until now, the Titanic held the title of deepest ship wreck from which objects could have been retrieved. Yet while the Titanic lies at a depth of 3800 meters, the wreck of the SS City of Cairo made the experts work even deeper, at 5100 meters.
Tons of silver could be salvaged, which, according to the media reports, makes a “large percentage” of the cargo. The estimated metal value of the find is about £34 million or €47 million. Numismatists, however, are left with nothing. The entire money discovered was melted down, to be shared between the Ministry and Deep Ocean Search. No information on the exact sums is available. A more positive aspect to report is that the second torpedo was likewise recovered. It might well show up in an auction one day.
Detailed information about the history of the SS City of Cairo is provided by Wikipedia.
Media covered the salvage, like The Telegraph, for example.
Pictures can be found on the Deep Ocean Search website.