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South Africa wins battle for $43 million sunken silver bars

Finders are not always keepers and Englands’s Supreme Court ruling on who owns about $43 million worth of silver bullion recovered from a cargo ship that sank during World War II proves it so.

The UK’s top court said late on Wednesday the treasure recovered by a British marine exploration firm from the SS Tilawa, which was sunk by a Japanese submarine en route to South Africa, belonged to that country. 

It means that Argentum Exploration, the company that found and retrieved 2,364 bars of silver in 2017, cannot claim compensation from South Africa for recovering them. 

The passenger ship SS Tilawa, also known as the “Indian Titanic”, was sunk by Japanese torpedoes on November 23, 1942.  In addition to carrying more than 900 people, of which 280 died, the vessel held 2,364 silver bars that had been procured by the then Union of South Africa to be minted into coins. 

The valuable cargo remained inaccessible until 2017, when a specialized salvage vehicle from Argentum Exploration, a British company owned by hedge fund executive Paul Marshall, successfully retrieved the silver worth $43 million in 2020.

The wreck of the SS Tilawa was found 2.5km under the sea and in 2017 Argentum spent six months secretly retrieving the silver. (Stock image by Jeffrey Daly.)

The bars were taken to the UK and claimed as Argentum’s property. The company later conceded South Africa owned the bars, but claimed compensation for recovering them. The finders argued that since salvaging is voluntary, they could request payment even though South Africa had not asked them to retrieve the silver.

Wednesday’s ruling said South Africa is protected by sovereign immunity against Argentum’s claim, which means the company cannot pursue further legal action against the country’s government.

“The parties concerned have now reached a settlement, which brings the matter to a close,” Ross Hyett, managing director of Argentum, said in an emailed statement.

Marshall, one of the UK’s most successful investors, owns several businesses including Argentum and uses his personal wealth to finance media outlets such as Unherd and GB News. 

THROWBACK THURSDAY: Salvage company hauls 110 tons of silver from WW2 shipwreck

Source: MINING.COM – Read More