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GB News joint owner loses fight over £34m of secretly salvaged silver
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GB News joint owner loses fight over £34m of secretly salvaged silver

The joint owner of GB News has lost a legal battle with the South African government over £34m of silver secretly salvaged from a second world war shipwreck.

Paul Marshall, who is lining up a bid for the Daily Telegraph, had claimed ownership of 2,364 silver bars his company had recovered from the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

This claim was successfully challenged in the UK supreme court by the South African government, which said it was the rightful owner of the silver as the metal had been bought for the South African mint.

The precious metal was sold by the government of India during the second world war, with the intention that it would be turned into coins for South Africa and Egypt. In late 1942 the 60 tonnes of silver was loaded on to the cargo ship SS Tilawa in Bombay (now Mumbai).

It set sail across the Indian Ocean for the port of Durban but was sunk by torpedoes fired from a Japanese submarine near Seychelles. In addition to the 280 people who lost their lives, the ship’s cargo, valued in 2020 at $43m (£34m), was lost to the sea.

There it remained for seven decades until the arrival of Argentum Exploration, a company majority owned by Marshall. The company, run by the former racing driver Ross Hyett, has taken advantage of improvements in technology to recover cargo from shipwrecks previously considered unsalvageable.

Argentum is among many businesses owned by Marshall, one of the UK’s most successful financiers, who uses his personal funds to finance media outlets including Unherd and GB News. The right-wing news channel made a loss of £42m last year – slightly more than the value of the salvaged silver – and announced redundancies.

The wreck of the SS Tilawa was found 2.5km under the sea and in 2017 Argentum spent six months secretly salvaging the silver, before sailing its booty to Southampton. The company unloaded the silver into a warehouse and declared it to the official Receiver of Wreck, believing it was legally owned by the UK government, only to be surprised when South Africa asserted ownership.

Argentum later argued that even if South Africa was the rightful owner, it should be paid for recovering the silver. Under maritime law, it is possible to claim a fee for voluntary salvage regardless of whether the owner of the property consented to the salvage operation.

But South Africa insisted it did not have to pay anything to Marshall, claiming the rules did not apply because the silver bars were being transported by a state for a non-commercial purpose.

On Wednesday, the UK supreme court sided with South Africa but noted that both sides had come to a confidential settlement late last month, before the judgment.

Jonathan Goulding, of the law firm HFW, who advised the South African government, said the ruling was significant: “In short, the court has firmly sent a message to those hoping to find and claim ownership of lost treasure that finders are not always keepers.”

Source: theguardian.com