Image: Indiana University scientist Charles Beeker examines possible wreckage from Quedagh Merchant
Indiana University
Indiana University scientist Charles Beeker examines possible wreckage from Quedagh Merchant, the ship abandoned by the scandalous 17th century pirate Captain William Kidd.
updated 12/13/2007 3:37:35 PM ET 2007-12-13T20:37:35

The wreckage of a pirate ship abandoned by Captain Kidd in the 17th century has been found by divers in shallow waters off the Dominican Republic, a research team claims.

The underwater archaeology team, from Indiana University, says they have found the remains of Quedagh Merchant, actively sought by treasure hunters for years.

Charles Beeker of IU said his team has been licensed to study the wreckage and convert the site into an underwater preserve for the public.

It is remarkable that the wreck has remained undiscovered all these years given its location, just 70 feet off the coast of Catalina Island in the Dominican Republic in less than 10 feet of seawater.

"I've been on literally thousands of shipwrecks in my career," Beeker said. "This is one of the first sites I've been on where I haven't seen any looting. We've got a shipwreck in crystal clear, pristine water that's amazingly untouched. We want to keep it that way, so we made the announcement now to ensure the site's protection from looters."

The find is valuable because of what it could reveal about William Kidd and piracy in the Caribbean, said John Foster, California's state underwater archaeologist, who is participating in the research.

Historians differ on whether Kidd was actually a pirate or a privateer — that is, a captain paid by the government to battle the enemy. After his conviction on piracy and murder charges in a sensational London trial, he was left to hang over the River Thames for two years.

Historians write that Kidd captured the Quedagh Merchant, loaded with valuable satins and silks, gold, silver and other East Indian merchandise, but left the ship in the Caribbean as he sailed to New York on a less conspicuous sloop to clear his name of the criminal charges.

IU Anthropologist Geoffrey Conrad said the men Kidd entrusted with his ship reportedly looted it and then set it ablaze and adrift down the Rio Dulce. Conrad said the location of the wreckage and the formation and size of the cannons, which had been used as ballast, are consistent with historical records of the ship. They also found pieces of several anchors under the cannons.

"All the evidence that we find underwater is consistent with what we know from historical documentation, which is extensive," Conrad said. "Through rigorous archeological investigations, we will conclusively prove that this is the Capt. Kidd shipwreck."

The IU team examined the shipwreck at the request of the Dominican Republic's Oficina Nacional De Patrimonio Cultural Subacuático.

"The site was initially discovered by a local prominent resident of Casa De Campo, who recognized the significance of the numerous cannons and requested the site be properly investigated," said ONPCS Technical Director Francis Soto. "So, I contacted IU."

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