News, WW1

WW1 Shipwreck Contains Wine Worth Millions

  • During WW1, a German U-boat torpedoed the SS Libourne off the Cornish coast on 29th September, 1918.
  • The ship sank carrying an estimated ten thousand bottles of wine and liquor.
  • Fascinated by the riches inside, a group of divers located and identified the wreck site in 2015. However, the British Government rejected their application for a salvage operation.

The History of the SS Libourne

WW1 shipwreck is creating a storm. In 1918, Clyde & Co LLP launched the SS Libourne. It was a merchant ship that had a Gross Registered Tonnage (GRT) of 1,219 tons. Unfortunately, the vessel served the British Navy for less than a year, transporting goods for the country during The Great War.

During its short lifespan, the SS Libourne remained active in the latter stages of WW1. On its last voyage, the ship carried a large wine and liquor cargo, including several thousand bottles of brandy, whisky, and other spirits.

Dominic Robinson
Diver Dominic Robinson of Darkstar diving on the WW1 shipwreck of the SS Libourne (Image: Jam Press/Dominic Robinson)

On 29th September, 1918, the vessel was on its way from Bordeaux to Liverpool when it was attacked by a German U-Boat, U-54. The U-Boat fired a torpedo at the ship, which struck its target causing the ship to sink off the Cornish coast. All crew members, except three, were rescued by a nearby British naval vessel. The merchant ship sank only six weeks before the end of WW1.

Read More: U-Boat “Packed With Gold” Famed Treasure Hunter Has Left Clues

Hellmuth Von Ruckteschell commanded the German U-Boat, U-54, that sank the SS Libourne. During the war, Ruckteschell had gained a reputation as one of the most successful merchant raider commanders of the Imperial German Navy.

The sinking of the SS Libourne added another achievement to his successful career.

Bottles of Wine and Liquor

One hundred years after sinking, the SS Libourne is at the centre of attention once again. Recently, the newspaper, The Mirror UK reported that the wreck contains more than 10,000 bottles of wine and liquor. According to estimates, these bottles cost millions of pounds.

Photographs and video revealed tens of thousands of bottles of not just brandy and champagne but red and white wine

WW1 Shipwreck Expert

Mirror UK’s report has stirred controversy between Marine explorers, Historic England, and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS). As a result, experts from various fields have joined forces to study the WW1 shipwreck.

Although disturbing wrecks containing dead bodies is illegal, British law allows divers to conduct treasure-hunting missions for commercial gain.

Underwater Operations Expert Daniel Jayson, Naval Historian Ian Hudson, and Salvage Expert Luc Heymans are known for hunting British Waters. In 2015, the team successfully located and explored the remains of the SS Libourne.

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The ship’s cargo included gherkins alongside champagne and brandy. But, surprisingly, there was much more on the boat. The vessel also carried more than 100 bottles of various other drinks — beverages, including Red Wine, White Wine, Benedictine, Brandy, and Champagne.

The team, named “Darkstar,” captured video evidence revealing thousands and thousands of spirit bottles. Although the salvage operation requires highly experienced divers, Darkstar were up for the challenge.

A Diver inspects the cargo
The cargo of the WW1 shipwreck SS Libourne is inspected by a Darkstar diver. The team still await permission to salvage.

Request Declined

Currently, Historic England and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport are responsible for protecting the wreckage. Nevertheless, following the discovery of the SS Libourne, the treasure hunters requested the concerned authorities to salvage the wreck.

However, the Government rejected the application. In an attempt to change the ruling, the salvage team pledged to contribute a percentage of profits to the Lizard Lifeboat Station and 1421 Foundation. Still, the Government did not budge.

“I thought this government was meant to be in favour of business,” said Jayson, expressing his disappointment.

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“We have invested much money and went ahead with the exploratory dive knowing that the law allowed it. But officials subsequently said that despite not signing the UNESCO treaty, the Government applies its policy.”

The disappointed salvager mentioned that his team could scavenge a few bottles for evaluation. However, getting investment for such a small catch is nearly impossible.

The accumulative price of these bottles is estimated to be in the millions. Recently, some Swedish bottles of similar nature were sold for £9,000 each. But, Hudson anticipates that these bottles could cost around £25,000 each.

Undoubtedly, the story of the SS Libourne and its sunken cargo has garnered significant interest from historians and wine enthusiasts. As a result, the ship has become a well-known tale of World War One and the history of wine.