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New Read here story of the greatest gold salvage from a sunken vessel in history.
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SS EGYPT P&O LINER a historic overview

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SS Egypt click on this image to download a larger version
SS Egypt at dock in 1920. Click image to enlarge
Launched by Caird & Co Ltd of Greenock, this 500ft long elegant Edwardian passenger liner of just under 8000-tons was owned by the P&O Steam Navigational Company. 'Egypt' was the third of a 5-strong 'India' class that made up the company's last single screw passenger liners. In September of 1897 she left for her maiden voyage to Bombay then spent most of her early days on the Australian run. During 1910 while on Eastern services she brought the Princess Royal home from Egypt then continued to cruise the Mediterranean up to the time of the Great War. Decorated with the international Red Cross colours 'Egypt' entered Government service as a hospital ship in August of 1915 accommodating up to 461 patients at any one time, a service she continued until June of 1919.
On the 19th May 1922 'Egypt' left Tilbury bound for Bombay on what would be her very last voyage. Having made her way west through the channel she then turned south into the Bay of Biscay on a bearing for Cape St Vincent & Gibraltar. Three days into her journey and 25 miles off of Ushant she encountered dense fog, so thick infact that she almost came to a standstill.
Egypt in her hospital colours
Egypt in her hospital colours during the great war of 1914-1919.
Now within a venerable position of a main trading route she had no alternative but to make slow headway whilst sounding her whistle. At 7.00pm she was suddenly rammed by the French cargo steamer 'Seine' whose bows were strengthened to deal with Baltic ice, 'Egypt' heeled over from the impact and sank within 20 minutes. Like thousands of other ships she
Quaglia Italian boss of salvage company SORIMA
Quaglia with the first gold from the
Egypt recovered in 1932.
perhaps would have long since been forgotten even today, that is had she not been carrying about 10-tons of silver and 5-tons of gold bars as well as a large amount of sovereigns! In 1922 a fortune estimated at £1,054,000 today almost 80 years on the equivalent of over 36 million English pounds! The wreck now lay at the bottom of the Atlantic at a depth of 125m, over twice that any diver of the time had ever been to! The underwriters had no alternative other than to consider the 'Egypt's' precious cargo as lost. In 1929 Giovanni Quaglia, an irrepressible Italian salvage expert who specialized in the impossible took up the quest to recover the bullion on behalf of Lloyds insurers. . In August of 1930 using the traditional method of toeing a suspended cable between two vessels over the seabed proved successful in locating the wreck. Quaglia's company Sorima although at the very cutting edge of salvage was now faced with their most challenging operation to date. The wreck lie upright on an even keel her strong room where the bullion was stowed in a small narrow chamber 7m long three deck levels down at the bottom of the ship. Quaglia's technique for recovery was based on the 'Iron Man' an armoured diving suit of half a ton in weight that could be lowered to the wreck as an observation chamber.

observation chamber and diver
observation chamber being lowered into the Atlantic 1932 clcik to enlarge

Left & Center; The observation chamber used by the SORIMA salvage project. The
diver inside would be lowered to the wreck where he could then direct command's to
the surface crew to position the grab across the gold.
Right; Giovanni Lenci getting out of the shell after sending up the first gold bars.

The diver, encased within would then direct operations carried out from the surface by means of a telephone link to the salvage vessel 'Artiglio'. The surface team was then able to guide cranes and winches, which in turn lowered explosives and steel grabs into place, for the next two years the team would slowly tear their way through the wreck in search of gold.
The grab and bucket grab on the salvage vessel sovereigns aboard the salvage vessel in 1932

Left; The bucket towers above the surface crew who attend to the grab itself
where they are able to remove gold bars from the jaws.
Center; The actual grab used aboard the Artiglio in a housed position.
Right; The salvage team recover the first of the sovereigns.

Even in the years of depression Quaglia's personal fortune followed Sorima's working capital into the undertaking and at one stage work stopped while the Italian sought more capital. The first gold was not recovered until June 1932 by the end of the month the operation amassed a pile of ingots and coins. Quaglia reported to Lloyds in London and was given a heroes welcome, the world was intrigued by the feat and newspapers around the globe ran the story. Readers could see for themselves progress from illustrated drawings of the operation and were given regular updates. Each season Sorima returned to the wreck, a task not abandoned until 1935, by which time an estimated 95% of the treasure had been recovered. Sorima's operation was a story of ultimate success a story still regarded within the marine recovery business as one of the greatest salvage feats of all time. It is now said still unaccounted for amongst the wreck lie 14,929 sovereigns, 17 gold bars and 30 silver ingots.
Click here to see one of the recovered sovereigns in a Lloyds presentation box.

See the gold bar in the jaws of the grab
David Scotts impression of how the wreck would have looked back in 1932

Left; One of the gold the very first gold bars to come to the surface after a period of
2 years ripping the wreck apart from above. Click on the image to see an enlarged
version where you will be able to see clearly a gold bar within the jaws of the grab.
Right; During the project journalist David Scott was aboard the Artiglio to record the
gold recovery, here is his impression of what the wreck would have looked like during
the period of when SORIMA ripped the wreck apart to recover the gold. Click on the
image to enlarge it and you are able to see clearly the observation chamber and grab.

Atiglio
SORIMA divers with the first of the gold recovery

Left; The Italian team SORIMA aboard Salvage boat Artiglio used for the Egypt gold recovery.
Right; Quaglia and the chief divers with gold bars from the Egypt in 1932.

gold on deck of Artiglio
Gold stacked on the deck

Left; Quaglia watches on as the gold is stacked on the deck of the Artiglio.
Right; A very old sepia photograph on board the Artiglio with a stack of gold.




Egypt Salvage
June 1929
Almost immediately after 'Egypt' was lost she became a fantasy treasure shipwreck.
She was deep, in fact a depth of over twice any man had been too at the time, the underwriters had no alternative other than to consider the 'Egypt's' precious cargo as lost. For seven years men from several nations had dreamed of slaving the lost gold, some had searched for the wreck with no avail. Others worked designs for means to retrieve the gold once found a feat in itself. Now it was the turn of Commendatore Giovanni Quaglia, an irrepressible Italian salvage expert who specialized in the impossible. Quaglia was the founder of an infamous salvage company 'Societá Ricuperi Marittimi' SORIMA for short. Quaglia used several methods to search for the wreck even taking the offer of a certain farther Innocent whom claimed to possess the gift to be able to locate the gold and silver by using divining rods! The season continued until the bad weathers put stop.
click to enlarge and see a bigger version

Above right; During the salvage project the words media was focused
once the first gold was discovered. Often entire pages of national news
papers were filled with drawings showing how the gold was being
recovered. Click on the image above to down load a 160k enlarged version.

August 1930
Using the traditional method of toeing a suspended cable between two vessels over the seabed proved successful in locating the wreck. Quaglia's company Sorima although at the very cutting edge of salvage was now faced with their most challenging operation to date. The wreck lie upright on an even keel her strong room where the bullion was stowed in a small narrow chamber 7m long three deck levels down at the bottom of the ship. Quaglia's technique for recovery was based on the 'Iron Man' an armored diving suit of ½-ton in weight that could be lowered to the wreck as an observation chamber. The diver, encased within would then direct operations carried out from the surface by means of a telephone link to the salvage vessel 'Artiglio'. The surface team was then able to guide cranes and winches, which in turn lowered explosives and steel grabs into place, for the next two years the team would slowly tear their way through the wreck in search of gold. Even in the years of depression Quaglia's personal fortune followed Sorima's working capital into the undertaking and at one stage work stopped while the Italian sought more capital.

 Diagram showing where the gold was stored on the Egypt
Diagram showing where the gold was located on the wreck.
The gold aboard the Egypt was stowed at the very lower decks of the ship. The unfortunate obstacle for the SORIMA team was that the wreck was discovered upright on the seabed. For a period of two years the team practically had to eat there way through the ship from the upper boat decks through the promenade deck levels bridge deck main deck until they reached the lower deck in 1932. Incredibly they managed to recover 98% of the gold and silver cargo over a period of 4-5 years.

 

June 1932
For three years Sorima had battled the Atlantic in quest for gold but now the impossible had become a reality the first gold being recovered from the wreck.
By the end of the month the operation amassed a pile of ingots and coins! Quaglia reported to Lloyds in London and was given a heroes welcome. The world was intrigued by the feat and newspapers around the globe ran the story. Readers could see for themselves progress from illustrated drawings of the operation and were given regular updates. From now on each season Sorima returned to the wreck, a task not abandoned until 1935, by which time an estimated 95% of the treasure had been recovered. Sorima's operation was a story of ultimate success a story still regarded within the marine recovery business as one of the greatest salvage feats of all time.
The story of the 'Egypt' and her gold would never be forgotten, a story that is guaranteed to spring up in almost any treasure shipwreck book since written!

August 1987
'Egypt' had laid quiet for some 52 years and now commercial diving operations once again commenced over the wreck this time by 'Consortium Recovery'. From the Dutch salvage vessel 'Holga Dane' the quest to recover the remaining bullion was now on. With operations in excess of £10,000 a day the deep saturation team was eventually pulled off the wreck having only recovered a single bar of gold and five silver worth at the time approx.£100,000. Research indicates that in fact the gold was cast in several different sizes, 28lbs, 20lbs and small 2½ lb ingots, today still unaccounted for amongst the wreck lie 14,929 sovereigns, 17 gold bars and 30 silver ingots!

July 2001 click here


Note; The Times journalist David Scott covers this incredible story of salvage in
detail with in two rare 1931/2 books 'Seventy Fathoms Deep' and 'The Egypt's Gold'.



>>Go Direct to Egypt Home navigation page on deepimage

 

     





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