Copper treasure haul for salvage specialist SubSea

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The Independent Online

The salvage expert SubSea Resources has begun recovering copper from its first project, a wreck at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of northern Spain.

The AIM-listed group said "Project Celia" had begun removing copper from the François Vieljeux, a ship which sunk in a storm in 1979 while on its way from Tanzania to ports in northern Europe. Its cargo included 5,500 tonnes of copper and 700 tonnes of zinc. SubSea expects to be able to recover about 80 per cent of this total, which analysts estimate is worth about £17.3m.

Mark Gleave, the group's managing director, said: "The fact that the method we have developed is now proven to work is fantastic for SubSea going forwards. With proven technology and ability in place, the company is confident the recovery procedure can be repeated".

SubSea shares fell 1p to 41p yesterday, valuing the group at £45m, as investors locked in profits from the stock's recent strong rise.

The shipwrecks SubSea targets are usually owned by the financial companies that had insured them. The group either buys the rights to the booty on board or cuts a deal with the insurer for a percentage of the sale value.

Over the past 20 years, it has built a database of more than 12,000 wrecks. Prime targets are identified according to cargo and ease of salvage operation.

After the area of the wreck is surveyed and the ship located, the recovery is undertaken by the Geomaster, a 117-metre vessel capable of holding its position over the target area even in force seven winds. A remotely operated grab is then used to recover the cargo from within the shipwreck. The Geomaster can haul a maximum of 400 tonnes a day in optimum conditions.

SubSea's technology enables it to go after wrecks lying up to 6,000 metres below the sea surface, which is far deeper than the traditional cut-off point.

Project Celia is scheduled to be completed by the end of the month. The group's focus will then shift to Project Ella, a mail ship with an estimated 20,000 ounces of gold on board worth £5m. In the new year, SubSea plans to move into projects Vanilla and Miranda.

Vanilla has an estimated cargo of 9,500 tonnes of copper, while Miranda 4,500 tonnes of nickel.

Analysts have suggested the group's pipeline of projects could be worth more than £90m.