Shipwrecks and sunken treasure may seem like a story lifted from a pirate movie, but a company that finds and recovers precious cargo from the bottom of the sea has come up with a haul of silver valued at over $36 million.
On Monday, Tampa-based Odyssey Marine Exploration announced that it had recovered over 61 tons (1.8 million ounces) of silver bullion this month from the wreck of a cargo ship torpedoed 300 miles off the coast of Ireland during World War II.
"This is the heaviest amount of precious cargo ever recovered from the deepest depth," Odyssey's president Mark Gordon told "Squawk on the Street" on Monday.
The wreck is the SS Gairsoppa, a 412-foot, steel-hulled British ship that sank in February 1941. It now sits nearly three miles below the ocean's surface. Odyssey said that it has recovered a total of 2,792 silver ingots, or 110 tons, from the site since 2012, including 1,574 ingots in the most recent recovery. Each ingot weighs about 1,100 ounces.
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"It's obviously a high-risk venture." Gordon said. "We invest millions of dollars on the front end before we know that we're going to have a success." He expects that Odyssey's portion of the proceeds (which must be split with the U.K. government) will be invested in future projects.
Odyssey said that 99 percent of the insured silver believed to be on Gairsoppa has been recovered. According to its contract with the U.K. government, the company will retain 80 percent of the salvaged cargo's value. The cargo has been transported to a secure location in the U.K.
Odyssey said that it used remotely operated vehicles, heavy launch and recovery systems and other specialized deep-ocean equipment. Gordon pointed to a United Nations estimate that 3 million shipwrecks remain and said that their cargo represents "billions of dollars lying on the sea floor."
"This is our fourth or fifth success," Gordon said. "This is what we do." Though he said earnings were "episodic" by nature of Odyssey's operations, he added that the company has "a portfolio of projects that will continue to yield these returns."
Odyssey hedges its positions in the commodities that it recovers. The price of silver has risen since the announcement, making the find increasingly valuable.