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SS Mantola - Frequently Asked Questions

What was the SS Mantola?
The SS Mantola was a 450 foot British-flagged steamer which set sail from London on February 4, 1917, carrying passengers and cargo - including a shipment of silver - to Calcutta, India. On February 8, 1917, she was struck by a torpedo from a German submarine. The 165 crew members and 18 passengers abandoned the ship. All but seven crew members, who drowned when their lifeboat overturned, were rescued by the HMS Laburnum. An unsuccessful attempt was made to tow the Mantola before she sank on February 9, 1917 – less than a year after she was launched.

To learn more about the history of the Mantola click here.

Why did the UK Department for Transport award Odyssey the contract for the cargo aboard the Mantola?
At the time of her sinking, the Mantola carried a silver cargo insured under the UK War Risk Insurance program. The UK Ministry of War Transport (now known as the UK Department for Transport) became the owner of the cargo when it paid the claim associated with her loss. As part of the salvage agreement, Odyssey assumed the risk, expense and responsibility for the search, cargo recovery, documentation and marketing of the cargo. Odyssey will retain 80% of the net salved value of the silver recovered under the contract.

Why did Odyssey target the Mantola?
While planning search operations for the SS Gairsoppa, Odyssey created contingency plans for several potential targets depending on when the Yuzhmorgeologiya charter was complete. Odyssey’s research team used Odyssey’s proprietary shipwreck database to identify other potential targets within range of the Gairsoppa search area and developed a search area for the Mantola. This preparation paid off when Odyssey located the shipwreck.

During the first phase of the search for the Gairsoppa, a target was located using the Yuzhmorgeologiya’s side-scan sonar that bore characteristics of the Gairsoppa, but positive identification could not be confirmed without a visual ROV inspection. While waiting for the visual inspection to be conducted from the Odyssey Explorer, the Yuzhmorgeologiya began search operations for the Mantola. This operation kept the search resources productive and close-by in case additional side-scan work needed to be done on the Gairsoppa project.

The incremental cost to conduct the Mantola search was minimal, and the recovery expedition will be completed in conjunction with the Gairsoppa recovery, which will make recovery cost-efficient as well.

How did Odyssey locate the Mantola?
Odyssey conducted extensive research using multiple sources to determine the highest probability area to search. The target shipwreck was located using the MAK-1M (deep-tow low frequency sonar system), aboard the chartered Russian research vessel RV Yuzhmorgeologiya. Visual inspection of the site was conducted with a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from the Odyssey Explorer. The Mantola was discovered more than 2,500 meters below the surface of the North Atlantic Ocean, in international waters approximately 100 miles from the Gairsoppa site.

How did Odyssey confirm the identity of the Mantola?
Extensive research was conducted to understand the identifying features that would be expected on the SS Mantola, taking into consideration what other ships could possibly be in the area. During the visual ROV inspection, the archaeology and marine operations teams examined the shipwreck looking for expected characteristics or any characteristics which could rule out the site as that of the Mantola. The identity of the shipwreck as that of the SS Mantola was confirmed by many features including:

  • length, width and height of shipwreck
  • location and layout of ships decks and superstructure
  • letters from “Mantola” and “Glasgow” visible on stern

What does Odyssey expect to find on the Mantola shipwreck site and what is it worth?
Contemporary research and official documents indicate that the ship was carrying more than 600,000 ounces of silver as well as other cargo. The silver was likely being transported as bullion and at least one document refers to “bars of silver” on board.

In 1917, the British Ministry of War Transport paid a War Risk Insurance Claim for £110,000 (in 1917 value) for silver that was on board the Mantola when she sank. War Risk insurance was paid out only on privately-owned cargoes. Government-owned cargoes were self-insured. The Government also did not typically record its own high-value specie or precious metal cargoes on manifests for security reasons, often referring to them as “general cargo” or even “nails” or other heavy boxed cargo.

The ultimate size and value of the cargo of silver will only be known after recovery and determination of the total amount of silver recovered and how much of it, if any, is in specie.

When will Odyssey begin recovery operations on the Mantola cargo?
Odyssey has already identified the technology and equipment necessary to recover the silver cargo from the Gairsoppa, and the Mantola recovery operations will be conducted in conjunction with the Gairsoppa work. Mobilization plans are being finalized and it is anticipated that the recovery expedition on Gairsoppa will commence in Q2 of 2012.

Do you expect to find any human remains?
Human remains are not expected to be found during work on the shipwreck of the Mantola due to the circumstances surrounding the sinking. All passengers and crew (18 passengers and 165 crew) were able to abandon the Mantola and board lifeboats. Seven crew members drowned when their lifeboat capsized, but the Mantola was still afloat far from the site of their loss. The remaining passengers and crew were rescued by the HMS Laburnum.

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