SILVER: A Metal of Sunken Treasure and Champions

Earlier this week, Odyssey Marine Exploration, a world leader in deep-ocean shipwreck exploration, announced it successfully recovered approximately 48 tons of silver bullion from the SS Gairsoppa. The British ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank in three miles of water off the coast of Ireland during World War II. Despite the silver being submerged for 71 years, it is still a highly prized discovery as the precious metal has appreciated in value.

In a press release, the company explained the initial recovery of the sunken treasure totaled 1,203 silver bars or approximately 1.4 million troy ounces of silver. The total operation, which also includes the SS Mantola, could bring to the surface about 240 tons of silver, a record-breaking amount. The recovery is the heaviest and deepest haul of precious metals to date.

“With the shipwreck lying approximately three miles below the surface of the North Atlantic, this was a complex operation,” commented Greg Stemm, chief executive officer. “Our capacity to conduct precision cuts and successfully complete the surgical removal of bullion from secure areas on the ship demonstrates our capabilities to undertake complicated tasks in the very deep ocean.”

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Companies such as Odyssey are willing to go to such great lengths to recover precious metals, because hard assets such as gold and silver tend to hold their value exceptionally well over the long-term. The SS Gairsoppa sank in 1941, a year in which the average silver price was 35 cents per ounce. However, in 2011 the average price of silver was $35 per ounce. Currently, the price of silver is about $27 per ounce, but Odyssey’s haul of 1.4 million ounces is still valued at roughly $38 million.

Silver is an amazing metal. Not only is it known for historic monetary characteristics, but also for its industrial usage. Almost all electronics are configured with silver. The precious metal is used in everything from automobiles to alternative energy needs. According to The Silver Institute, over 36 million ounces of silver are used annually in automobiles. Meanwhile, silver paste is used in 90 percent of all crystalline silicon photovoltaic cells, which are the most common type of solar cell.  Over 100 million ounces of silver are projected to be used on these solar cells by 2015. The white metal has also been used in medicinal and preservative purposes around the world for generations.

Gold is often called the money of kings, but silver will be known as the money of champions come the London Olympics. When athletes receive a gold medal at the Summer Olympics, only 1.34 percent of it will contain actual gold. The rest is comprised of 93 percent silver and 6 percent copper, according to CNNMoney. In fact, solid gold medals have not been issued since the 1912 Olympic games in Sweden.

Considering silver’s unique industrial qualities and ability to endure years of abuse and still come out a winner, it seems only appropriate to have the precious metal at the top of the podium.

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Disclosure: Long EXK, AG, HL, PHYS