MANHATTAN (CN) — Almost exactly a century after the vessel sank, explorers have brought a federal action laying claim to the S.S. Mantola: a World War I-era steamship carrying silver treasure that has been estimated at $18 million.
The Mantola had been carrying 536 bars of silver to Calcutta, India, before a German submarine’s torpedo on Feb. 8, 1917, plunged it 2,500 meters into the depths of the North Atlantic Ocean.
Most of the ship’s 165-strong crew and 18 passengers survived, but seven drowned with the treasure.
The steamship would not be spotted again for nearly a century, until Odyssey Marine Exploration — a company based in Tampa Bay, Florida — announced that it found the vessel roughly 300 nautical miles west of mouth of the English Channel.
Odyssey says that, along with the ship and treasure, explorers found the ship’s bell, inscribed with the letters “MANTOLA,” and recovered it from the shipwreck site.
The New York Times estimated the value of the ship and its more than 20 tons of silver in its 2011 report on the discovery.
Six years later, now that its contract with the U.K. Department of Transportation expired in September 2015, Odyssey has lodged an admirality complaint with a federal judge in New York, asserting itself as the “exclusive salvor” of the vessel.
“In 2011, the [Department of Transportation] and Odyssey entered into an agreement for the salvage of the cargo, which provided that Odyssey would retain 80 percent of the net value of the recovered silver,” the complaint states. “Odyssey assumed the risk, expense and responsibility for the search, cargo recovery, documentation and marketing of the cargo.”
Odyssey’s lawsuit boasts of how its explorers found the ship using “sophisticated sonar equipment,” then surveyed the shipwreck site and recover artifacts with a surface-controlled, remote-operated vehicle.
U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer set an initial conference for May 1, beginning proceedings to see if he should appoint Odyssey the ship’s exclusive owner.
The docket did not show any other claimant by press time on Tuesday afternoon.
Odyssey’s attorney John Kimball, from the New York-based firm Blank Rome, declined to comment on the case or the ship’s current value in a phone interview.