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SS Mantola Historical Overview

The SS Mantola was a 450 foot British-flagged steamer which was delivered to the British India Steam Navigation Company in June 1916 at a cost of £146,700. She could hold 66 first-class passengers and 61 second-class passengers and was intended for London/Bombay service. Just four months later, she struck a mine off Aldeburgh, UK. Although a large hole was blown in the No 1 hold, the ship made it safely to port.


On February 4, 1917, the SS Mantola left London for Calcutta with 165 crew members, 18 passengers and cargo which included a shipment of silver. Her captain was David James Chivas, the great-nephew of the Chivas Brothers, famously known for their Chivas Regal Scotch Whiskey.


On February 8, 1917, while sailing under full steam in a zig-zag pattern, she was struck by a torpedo from German submarine U-81 under the command of Captain Raimund Weisbach. With the No. 2 hold taking on water in high seas and clouds of steam billowing from broken steam pipes, passengers and crew abandoned the ship to lifeboats. Before the Captain and officers left the Mantola, the U-boat resurfaced and began shelling the ship. The U-boat later moved close to the Captain’s lifeboat but suddenly submerged and vanished just before the HMS Laburnum arrived in response to the Mantola’s distress call. All but seven crew members, who drowned when a lifeboat overturned, were rescued by the Laburnum. An unsuccessful attempt was made to tow the Mantola before she sank on February 9, 1917 – less than a year after she was launched.

In 1917, the British Ministry of War Transport paid a War Risk Insurance Claim for £110,000 (in 1917 value) for silver that was on board the Mantola when she sank. This sum would equate to more than 600,000 ounces of silver based on silver prices in 1917. In September 2011, the UK Government Department for Transport awarded Odyssey a salvage contract for the cargo of the SS Mantola. Under the agreement, Odyssey will retain 80% of the net salved silver value recovered.

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