An operation to recover tonnes of gold bullion believed to be on board a ship which sank off the coast of Donegal in 1940 is said to be making substantial progress.

Will Carrier, Operations Manager with Atlantic Subsea Ventures, the company behind the salvage operation, has told RTÉ news that they hope to see results in four to six weeks.

Mr Carrier (below) was speaking on board the North Sea Giant, the huge vessel involved in the salvage operation, which docked in Killybegs this morning for a crew change.

ASV has researched many WW1 and WW2 ships which were believed to be carrying gold to finance the war effort when they sank.

This operation is focused on the Empress of Britain, once a luxurious ocean liner, it was requisitioned for the war in 1939.

In October of 1940 the ship sank after being attacked, first by a German bomber and then by a U Boat, over 100km off the coast of Donegal.

Will Carrier

Its location was found in 1995 but given the depth of the water there, a salvage operation was not feasible.

Now, however, ASV is using high tech equipment developed for the oil and gas industry to try to find and recover the gold believed to be on the sunken vessel.

It is using remotely operated vehicles and specialised cutting equipment to cut into the thick hull of the ship which was designed to withstand the ice fields around Newfoundland.

Mr Carrier estimates there could be half a billion euro worth of gold with the vessel at the bottom of the sea. He says the company would like to land the gold in Ireland.

However, under current legislation the company would have to leave the gold with the Receiver of Wrecks for a year and a day and pay a levy of 7.5% on the total value of the cargo. 

Mr Carrier said ASV is investing hugely in the recovery operation and would need to see a change in the law to make it feasible to land the gold in Ireland.

He said they know there are no claims on the gold so they want to be able to move it on directly and pay a lower levy,  in the region of 4% on its value, to the Government.

The current law is probably archaic, he says, and was designed for smaller vessels like trawlers.

If the changes were made, he said, it would create a substantial income for the Irish taxpayer as there are many more wrecks out there which the company would like to salvage and Ireland would be the most convenient location to land the cargo.

Mr Carrier also said that there is a potential environmental hazard created by many of the wrecks which are lying on the seabed for about 80 years.

No one is monitoring them and the possibility of fuel leaking into the ocean is real.

ASV is currently working with the Irish Coastguard in relation to this, according to Mr Carrier but he would like to see a closer partnership which would see his company put out a permanent survey vessel in areas where the wrecks are located.