By CoinWeek News Staff….
A hoard worth nearly US$50 million has been recovered from the wreckage of the SS City of Cairo, a steamboat sailing from India to Great Britain during World War II. 100 tons worth of silver rupees belonging to the UK Treasury have been found some 16,800 feet under the waters of the southern Atlantic Ocean.
According to the leaders of Deep Ocean Search (DOS) , the salvage team that discovered the wreckage in 2011 and brought up tons of rupees two years later, “a large percentage” of the coins had been recovered. The team, under an oath of silence from the British government, was permitted to announce the recovery in April 2015.
City of Cairo was a cargo and passenger ship assisting in the war effort by delivering vital silver supplies to England from Bombay (Mumbai), India, with stops in Cape Town, South Africa and Recife, Brazil. The unescorted Ellerman Lines ship was sunk by the Nazi submarine U-68 on November 6, 1942. Two torpedoes tore through the Cairo over a period of 10 minutes. 311 people–including passengers and crew–were on board; 104 people died as a result of the attack.
The British-led team began looking for the ship in November 2011. After much difficulty, the 450-foot-long vessel was discovered–broken in two–in the foothills of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Several feet of silt covered much of the wreckage.
In September 2013, DOS began bringing up tens of thousands of tons of rupees under contract by the UK Ministry of Transport. In addition to the silver coins, the crew brought up one other relic – the propeller from the second torpedo that sank the ship.
The recovery efforts are notable for several reasons.
Successful operations on City of Cairo represent a world record for the deepest-ever recovery effort. Made at nearly 17,000 feet, the Cairo recovery is 4,000 feet deeper than the northern Atlantic site where Titanic, discovered and explored in 1985, hit the ocean floor on that fateful day in 1912.
Before leaving the site one last time on September 25, 2013, the Deep Ocean Search team left a plaque at the site to memorialize the find.
Unfortunately for collectors, the recovered rupees have been melted for their silver and the bullion sold–save for a small number of coins probably salvaged as mementos. No reports say whether the hoard was examined for rare dates or other valuable eccentricities. An undisclosed sum of money from the bounty of recovered silver was split between the UK Treasury and DOS.
Millions of silver rupees were made annually during the first four decades of the 20th century. One-rupee coins from the 1900s into the late 1930s, comprising the silver coinage found at the site, contain 0.347 ounces of 91.70% pure silver and have a diameter of 30.79 millimeters. In 1939, the silver content of the British-Indian rupee was lowered to 50% but the coin’s overall weight of 11.66 grams remained unchanged.
Generally speaking, well-circulated examples of common British-Indian silver rupees from the early 20th century sell on the collector market for $10 to $20.