An oil company exploration crew’s chance discovery of a 200-year-old shipwreck in a little-charted stretch of the Gulf of Mexico is yielding a trove of new information to scientists, who say it is one of the most well-preserved wrecks ever found in the Gulf.
“When we saw it, we were all just astonished because it was beautifully preserved, and by that I mean for a 200-year-old shipwreck,” said Jack Irion, maritime archaeologist with the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in New Orleans.
Although most of the ship’s wood dissolved long ago, the copper hull and its contents remain in place.
Video shows muskets and gin bottles littering the Gulf floor.
Also discovered were an anchor, cannons and muskets.
Mr Irion said researchers have not yet determined whether it was a merchant, military or pirate ship.
There was plenty of pirate and military activity in the Gulf at the time, with the War of 1812, the Texas revolution and the Mexican-American War. The buccaneer Jean Lafitte and other pirates sailed the Gulf to smuggle goods.
Researchers believe the ship probably sank during a storm.
The shipwreck site was noticed during an oil and gas survey last year by Shell, which reported it to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which teamed up with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to survey the site.
The federal agencies used robots and high-definition cameras during a 56-day expedition, and underwater video was transmitted live via satellite to maritime archaeologists, scientists and resource managers.
So far, none of the wreckage or cargo has been brought up – and it might never be. The authorities want to explore as much as they can before making that decision.
Researchers would not disclose the precise location of the wreck, citing concerns over possible plundering or disturbing the site.
“One thing that we want to stress is ships have a monetary value, but they also have to us a historical value that goes way beyond that,” Mr Irion said.
“What this can tell us is a very interesting story about our past, about the history of the Gulf of Mexico, about how important the Gulf of Mexico was to the beginnings of the United States.”