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The treasure of the S.S. Egypt

The S.S. Egypt was an English liner owned by the Peninsular & Oriental Company. It sank on May 20, 1922 after a tragic accident, which killed several people and left a cargo of more than one million euros at the bottom of the English Channel. Let’s dive into the history of the treasure of the S.S. Egypt.

The sinking of the S.S. Egypt

The S.S. Egypt was intended to sail between the United Kingdom and Bombay, India. Built in 1897, it was still performing on its last voyage. Bad weather conditions caused the terrible accident.

The Egypt left the port of Tilbury, England, on May 19, 1922, bound for Marseille. On board were 44 passengers and 294 crew members, most of whom were Indians returning home. The cargo was substantial. In addition to the usual cargo, 4,500 kg of gold bars, 43 tons of silver and 37 cases of 165,000 English sovereigns were locked in the safe. The whole cargo is estimated to be worth more than a million euros.

The day after the departure, on May 20, 1922, the S.S. Egypt sank in the Bay of Biscay, off the coast of Finistère. After passing Ushant, a thick fog rose. Captain Collyer remained cautious and reduced speed. A siren was heard, but the thickness of the fog made it impossible to locate the position of the other boat. Seeing the conditions getting worse, Collyer decided to shut down the engines. Suddenly, a French freighter named La Seine emerged from the fog at high speed and struck the S.S. Egypt on the port side with violence. The liner’s hull was perforated in the middle. The Egypt quickly began to sink and panic took hold of the passengers who rushed to the canals. All the boats were freed, which allowed many survivors to find a place in one of the canals and join the Seine. Captain Collyer remained at his post until his ship sank. Luckily, he was thrown off by a wave and was rescued by one of the boats. All were taken to Brest by La Seine. In only twenty minutes, the S.S. Egypt disappeared under the waves. The violence of the scenes, later recounted by the survivors, will leave a lasting impression on the memory of the people of Brittany. 86 people perished in the wreck and the entire cargo disappeared in the turbulent waters.

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The treasure of the S.S. Egypt: rescues and excavations

During the following years, various recues were carried out to find the treasure of the S.S. Egypt. According to the first estimates, the wreck was located about 20 miles from the Ar Men lighthouse. However, it took several years before it was located precisely.

It was only seven years later, in 1929, that the precise location of the wreck was found. In June, the Italian recue company Sorima (Società Ricuperi Marittimi) launched a vast operation. At a depth of 120 meters, it discovered the remains of the S.S Egypt. Three years later, two specialized vessels of the company, Artiglio and Rostro, began excavations using contemporary devices. Divers placed explosives on the safe. The ingots and the English sovereigns were lying there quietly. Then, a diver in a bell was responsible for bringing everything to the surface, using a giant mechanical grapple. These operations lasted three years, until 1935. It is estimated that only a good part of the contents of the vault was recovered, and the operations did not stop there.

In 1987, the Danish rescue company HH Fadersboell launched a new expedition to recover the remaining loot from the S.S. Egypt. The divers brought up 150 kilos of silver, 747 gold sovereigns, as well as gold bars.

The treasure of the S.S. Egypt continued to attract the curious. Since then, the devices have largely evolved, and modern pirates are not shy about it. In 2017, the Ice Maiden, a 15-meter English sailboat was spotted by French customs in the sinking area. The sailors try to locate the wreck with a magnetometer, a technological tool that detects metal masses underwater. The men were arrested. For the Department of Underwater Archaeological Research (Drassm) “it is a matter of ensuring the protection of maritime cultural heritage and avoiding the trafficking of ancient or historical objects”.

Only the future will tell us if other gold coins are still found at the bottom of the ocean. In the meantime, you will regularly find gold sovereigns from this fabulous treasure of the S.S. Egypt, on sale in our store.

Histomar et article
Jan Meecham
Le Parisien

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