Precious Metals

Court awards silver to salvors of ship sunk in 1942

Treasure salvors are awarded the 2,364 silver bars they recovered in 2017 from a commercial vessel sunk during World War II.

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The $36.3 million in silver bars recovered in 2017 from the wreckage of the merchant vessel SS Tilawa — sunk in 1942 off the coast of the Maldives by torpedoes fired from a Japanese submarine — is awarded to the salvors, Argentum Exploration Ltd., by the British Admiralty Court.

Argentum Exploration Ltd. is helmed by treasure hunter Ross Hyett, a former executive director of the British Racing Drivers’ Club, according to the Silver Institute

The SS Tilawa was en route Nov. 19, 1942, to South African ports from Bombay, India, now known as Mumbai, with 954 people, primarily Indian nationals, on board, along with 2,364 silver bars intended for South African coinage production.

Some sources suggest the cargo reflects 2,391 silver bars.

On Nov. 23, 1942, it was hit by the first of two torpedoes. Before the vessel was sunk by the second torpedo and sent to the floor of the Indian Ocean, 673 of those on board were rescued by another vessel, to be brought back to Bombay. The remaining 281 people perished.

The South African government sought to have the salvors relinquish possession of the silver bars under claims the precious metal was state property.

The government had hoped to have the South African Mint convert the silver bars for use in the production of coins.

Hyett’s legal team successfully argued to the court that the SS Tilawa was on a commercial and not government mission, and as such, under the rules of salvage, the silver belonged to the salvors who recovered it, according to the Silver Institute.

An extensive history of the SS Tilawa can be found online at

Relatives who lost loved ones on the SS Tilawa have a separate website at addressing the vessel’s fate.

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