TAMPA - Odyssey Marine Exploration this month pulled 61 tons of silver bullion from a British cargo ship that sank in 1941 and was found at a depth of nearly three miles, company representatives said Sunday.
The haul represents the largest and deepest recovery from a shipwreck in history, said Liz Shows, an Odyssey spokeswoman.
With the price of silver at $19.32 per ounce, the haul is worth $34.776 million, 80 percent of which Odyssey will retain, under the terms of the company's contract with the United Kingdom Department of Transport.
In 2012, Odyssey recovered nearly 48 tons of silver from the same wreck, brining the total haul to 110 tons, or nearly 99 percent of the insured silver reported to be aboard the 412-foot SS Gairsoppa when it sank.
"This was an extremely complex recovery, which was complicated by the sheer size and structure of the SS Gairsoppa, as well as its depth ...," Greg Stemm, Odyssey's chief executive officer, said in a release.
The Gairsoppa left Calcutta, India, in 1941 on its way to London with tons of tea and 7 million ounces of silver, worth 600,000 British pounds at the time.
A German U-boat spotted the vessel off the coast of Ireland on Feb. 17 and fired a torpedo that sunk the Gairsoppa to a depth 15,400 feet, 300 miles southwest of Galway Bay.
The Tampa-based treasure hunting company used underwater robots to cut into the cargo holds of the steel freighter and haul up the silver.
Odyssey was awarded a contract to locate the ship and recover the silver following a competitive bid process in 2011.
The deal avoids a legal fight similar to the one the company had with Spain, when Odyssey recovered millions of dollars in gold from a wreck, only to see a U.S. court ultimately award the treasure to Spain.
Britain takes a share, primarily because that government became the de facto insurer for the British shipping industry during wartime, and thus still holds a claim on such wrecks.