For almost 72 years, 2 391 bars of silver lay undisturbed in the hull of a torpedoed ship at the bottom of the Indian Ocean.

The SA Government is now embroiled in a High Court battle in the UK with British treasure hunter and former racing driver Ross Hyett over the precious cargo, worth about $43m (R775m) at the time it was salvaged five years ago.

The Sunday Times reports that a year later, SA claimed ownership of the silver bars, which the former Union of SA bought in 1942 from the Bombay mint in India.

The silver was destined for the mint in Pretoria.

The 60t cargo was transported on the British-registered SS Tilawa, which was also carrying 958 people, 732 of them passengers.

The ship was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1942, northwest of the Maldives.

Argentum, Hyett’s company, brought a claim in court for an unspecified salvage award.

SA, in turn, argued it has immunity from the jurisdiction of the court and asked it to dismiss the Argentum claim.

But in a ruling in the Admiralty Court in December 2020, Judge Sir Nigel Teare rejected SA’s argument and ruled that ‘the ship and cargo were, at the time the cause of action in salvage arose, in use for commercial purposes’.

Full Sunday Times report