Home » UK Court Grants South Africa $43M Sunken Silver Ownership

UK Court Grants South Africa $43M Sunken Silver Ownership

Historic Ruling Denies Compensation to British Salvage Company

by Ikeoluwa Ogungbangbe

England’s Supreme Court, South Africa has won the legal battle over the ownership of approximately $43 million worth of silver bars recovered from a World War II shipwreck. The ruling determined that the treasure, brought to the surface by a British marine exploration firm, rightfully belongs to South Africa.

The case involved Argentum Exploration, a company that in 2017 retrieved 2,364 silver bars from the wreck of the SS Tilawa—a passenger ship dubbed the “Indian Titanic” that was sunk by a Japanese submarine on November 23, 1942. The ship was en route to South Africa carrying these silver bars to be minted into coins when it met its tragic fate. Out of over 900 passengers, 280 lost their lives in the incident.

Argentum Exploration, owned by British hedge fund executive Paul Marshall, managed to locate and salvage the lost cargo using specialized equipment. Initially, after recovering the silver, valued at $43 million in today’s market, the company transported it to the UK, claiming it as their property. However, while Argentum recognized South Africa’s ownership of the silver, they sought compensation for the cost of recovery, arguing that their salvage efforts, which were not commissioned by South Africa, entitled them to a finder’s fee.

The legal dispute reached England’s Supreme Court, which on Wednesday delivered a verdict favoring South Africa. The court upheld that South Africa is shielded by sovereign immunity, effectively barring Argentum from pursuing any compensation claims against the South African government. The ruling emphasized that the act of salvage did not automatically entitle the salvor to remuneration, especially when the recovered property belonged to a sovereign state.

Ross Hyett, managing director of Argentum, acknowledged the court’s decision, stating, “The parties concerned have now reached a settlement, which brings the matter to a close.” This statement was issued shortly after the ruling, indicating that both parties had agreed to abide by the court’s judgment. Paul Marshall, known for his ventures in various businesses including media outlets such as Unherd and GB News, has yet to comment on the court’s decision.

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