History

Captain Morgan's Pirate Ship Found

Captain Morgan's pirate ship found. Learn more about Captain Morgan's being found in this article.

THE GIST

- The hull of a 17th-Century ship has been found near Panama.

- Archaeologists say it's one of five ships that belonged to the pirate, Captain Henry Morgan.

The lost wreckage of a ship belonging to 17th century pirate Captain Henry Morgan has been discovered in Panama, said a team of U.S. archaeologists -- and the maker of Captain Morgan rum.

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Near the Lajas Reef, where Morgan lost five ships in 1671 including his flagship "Satisfaction," the team uncovered a portion of the starboard side of a wooden ship's hull and a series of unopened cargo boxes and chests encrusted in coral.

The cargo has yet to be opened, but Captain Morgan USA -- which sells the spiced rum named for the eponymous pirate -- is clearly hoping there's liquor in there.

"There's definitely an irony in the situation," Fritz Hanselmann an archaeologist with the River Systems Institute and the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University and head of the dive team told KVUE Austin. The Captain Morgan rum group stepped in on the quest for Captain Morgan after team -- which found a collection of iron cannons nearby -- ran out of funds before they could narrow down the quest.

The new funding allowed the team to do a magnetometer survey, which looks for metal by finding any deviation in the earth's magnetic field.

"When the opportunity arose for us to help make this discovery mission possible, it was a natural fit for us to get involved. The artifacts uncovered during this mission will help bring Henry Morgan and his adventures to life in a way never thought possible," said Tom Herbst, brand director of Captain Morgan USA, in a statement.

In the 17th century, Captain Henry Morgan sailed as a privateer on behalf of England, defending the Crown's interests and pioneering expeditions to the New World. In 1671, in an effort to capture Panama City and loosen the stronghold of Spain in the Caribbean, Morgan set out to take the Castillo de San Lorenzo, a Spanish fort on the cliff overlooking the entrance to the Chagres River, the only water passageway between the Caribbean and the capital city.

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Although his men ultimately prevailed, Morgan lost five ships to the rough seas and shallow reef surrounding the fort.

The underwater research team included archaeologists and divers from Texas State University, volunteers from the National Park Service's Submerged Resources Center and NOAA/UNC-Wilmington's Aquarius Reef Base. And pirate booty or no, they said the story of Captain Henry Morgan was the real treasure.

"To us, the ship is the treasure -- the story is the treasure," Hanselman told MSNBC's Alan Boyle. "And you don't have a much better story than Captain Henry Morgan's sack of Panama City and the loss of his five ships."

Artifacts excavated by the dive team in 2010, including the six cannons, as well as any future relics will remain the property of the Panamanian government and will be preserved and displayed by the Patronato Panama Viejo.

Unopened cargo boxes and chests encrusted in coral were found near the wreck.

July 19, 2012

-- Forty-eight tons of silver bars was recently hauled up from a British cargo ship that was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sunk during World War II. The name of the S.S. Gairsoppa might have been the last sight seamen aboard three lifeboats saw as they abandoned the sinking ship on Feb. 17, 1941. Here, faint traces of the ship's painted letters are visible. In the bottom frame, contrast has been adjusted to highlight the letters.

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In service of the U.K. Ministry of War Transport, the Gairsoppa was laden with tea, iron and tons of silver. Because of bad weather and insufficient coal, the 412- foot steel-hulled cargo steamship, en route from India to Liverpool, England, was forced to break away from the military convoy off the coast of Ireland. As the captain re-routed for Galway, on the west coast of Ireland, the Gairsoppa and its crew of 86 men were hit by a torpedo from a Nazi U-boat. The boat sank in icy seas within 20 minutes.

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Left at the mercy of the winds and waves, two lifeboats soon disappeared. A third boat managed to sail for 13 days. When it was sighted, only three British officers and four Indian seamen remained of the original 35 occupants. As they tried to land between cliffs and rocks, the lifeboat capsized twice in the crashing surf. Only one person, second officer Richard Ayres, survived to shore.

In September 2011, 70 years after the dramatic sinking, Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc., an American salvage firm, announced the discovery of the Gairsoppa's intact wreck about 300 miles off the southwest coast of Ireland, at a depth of nearly three miles. The company was awarded an exclusive salvage contract by the British government in 2010. Here, the bow of the S.S. Gairsoppa is visible with both anchors.

The shipwreck was located using the MAK-1M (deep-tow low frequency sonar system), aboard the chartered Russian research vessel RV Yuzhmorgeologiya. Visual inspection of the site was conducted with a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) from the Odyssey Explorer.

Lying deeper than the Titanic, the Gairsoppa sank with 2,600 tons of pig iron, 1,765 tons of tea, 2,369 tons of general cargo and 200 tons of silver ingots and coins. The U.K. Ministry of War Transport paid an insurance loss of approximately £325,000 at the time for silver bars lost with the ship.

When the ship was located, the robot-captured video footage showed a unique view into the rusty ship. This image reveals a ladder leading to the forecastle deck, a stern compass, tea chests and even an intact toilet.

Although the video did not show any precious metal, the Odyssey crew was confident that it was still there. Using advanced robotics, as seen here, the deep sea explorer identified the silver bars and in July 2012 announced the recovery of 48 tons of silver from the sunken cargo ship.

This record-breaking operation has produced the heaviest and deepest recovery of precious metals from a shipwreck. The treasure hunters have so far recovered 1,203 bars of silver (a total of 1.4 million ounces). Based on current precious metal prices, they are valued at $38 million.

According to Odyssey, the bars of silver recovered so far represent only about 20 percent of all the bullion residing in the Gairsoppa. Records suggest the Gairsoppa carried a cargo of silver worth £600,000 at the time, which would equate to approximately 7 million ounces of silver. "One record clearly indicates that 2,817 silver bars were loaded at one port and another report lists an unconfirmed amount of silver (most likely coinage)," the company said. "The difference between the amount paid out under the War Risk policy (£325,000) and the £600,000 sterling referenced in contemporary documents is possibly explained by additional uninsured government-owned silver aboard," Odyssey stated. Under the agreement with the British government, Odyssey will retain 80 percent of the silver's value.

WATCH VIDEO: See how Odyssey finds and recovers sunken treasure.