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A company that hauled $43 million in silver bars from the 'Indian Titanic' wasn't even given a salvage fee by a court

Mia Jankowicz   

A company that hauled $43 million in silver bars from the 'Indian Titanic' wasn't even given a salvage fee by a court
  • A salvage company has lost a legal battle with South Africa over $43 million in shipwrecked silver.
  • The company claimed it was due a salvage fee from the country for hauling up the treasure.

A company that hauled 2,364 silver bars from a shipwreck on the ocean floor has lost a legal case with the South African government over the treasure.

A UK Supreme Court judgment, seen by Business Insider, ruled that salvage company Argentum Exploration doesn't have a salvage fee claim for recovering $43 million of silver from the wreck of the SS Tilawa.

Argentum Exploration is majority-owned by British hedge fund manager Paul Marshall.

The Tilawa was sunk by a Japanese submarine under mysterious circumstances just off the Seychelles Islands in 1942, killing 280 people and sending its silver cargo to the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

The ship had been transporting the silver from Bombay to South Africa, where it was to be used to mint coins.

The BBC has dubbed the ship "the Indian Titanic."

In 2017, Argentum Exploration sent specialist salvage vessels a mile and a half down to the site to gather the silver. It was then brought to the UK, where the legal battle over salvage fees unfolded.

Although the silver belongs to South Africa, Argentum Exploration said that it was entitled to a claim for salvage. In international maritime law, salvage companies can make such a claim even if they weren't commissioned by the legal owners.

But South Africa said it was immune from that law.

The case turned on the question of whether the silver was in commercial use at the time it was lost — which would have removed the country's immunity.

While earlier rulings sided with Argentum, on Wednesday the UK's Supreme Court disagreed.

The judgment said that "cargo sitting in the hold of a ship is not being used for any purpose, commercial or otherwise."

The case illustrates the complex and often high-stakes international legal wranglings that surround shipwrecks and precious salvage, as Business Insider's Katherine Tangalakis-Lippert previously reported.

In their ruling, the judges also noted that the two parties had arrived at a private settlement last month, without giving details.

"The parties have agreed that we should nevertheless hand down the judgment and we are satisfied that it is appropriate to do so," they wrote.

The settlement is subject to a non-disclosure agreement, Ross Hyett, managing director of Argentum Exploration, told BI. He added that the ruling was "an important judgment clarifying the law on sovereign immunity."

Marshall, Argentum's majority owner, also co-owns GB News, a self-styled anti-"woke" news outlet in the UK in the mold of Fox News.

Hyett told BI that Marshall had no input into the running of Argentum, or its dealings with the South African government.

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