A team of treasure hunters has discovered a vast haul of silver that lay on the North Atlantic seabed since the ship on which it was being transported was torpedoed by a German U-boat during the First World War .
The SS Mantola was shipping 20 tons of silver when she was sunk 143 miles off the southern Irish coast on 8 February 1917 with the loss of seven lives.
The wreck was discovered on the seabed 2,500 metres down by Odyssey Marine Exploration, the company that last month announced the discovery of the SS Gairsoppa, a Second World War cargo ship containing silver estimated to be worth more than £150m. SS Mantola was carrying a smaller quantity of silver but it is still estimated to be worth £12m and, as with the Gairsoppa, the UK government will get 20 per cent of the net value.
Technicians from the exploration company took the opportunity to search for the Mantola while awaiting confirmation that they had found the Gairsoppa. The wrecks were so close – about 100 miles apart – that the hunt for the 8,246-ton Mantola was regarded as a cost-effective way of using staff and equipment that would otherwise have lain idle.
Odyssey was commissioned to find the first and more valuable wreck by the Department for Transport after interest in finding the Gairsoppa was expressed by the salvage industry. A spokesman for the DfT said: "It's not an active programme on our part to re-balance the economy by finding sunken silver."
He added: "Ultimately, we have responsibility for a couple of thousand boats lost during the First World War and a similar number for the second. There aren't that many of any particular value."
Greg Stemm, chief executive of Odyssey, said advances in technology are such that more wrecks are becoming into range of salvage equipment. He said: "As we push deeper and deeper, a lot of new and interesting opportunities are presenting themselves."
The Mantola was steaming to Calcutta when she was torpedoed. Everyone managed to get off safely but seven drowned when a lifeboat capsized.