Shipwreck found by accident on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico

By Alex Sundby

/ CBS News

A U.S. government exploration vessel stumbled across the wreck of a ship built nearly 200 years ago while testing underwater drones in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this month. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration said that the crew of the Okeanos Explorer found the shipwreck May 16.

The wreck unexpectedly appeared on the sonar of a remotely operated vehicle, the Deep Discoverer, according to a summary of the discovery posted by the agency's Office of Ocean Exploration and Research. The Okeanos Explorer's crew contacted marine archaeologists to watch a livestream of the wreck.

The remote-operated vehicle Deep Discoverer approaches the bow of a shipwreck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico on May 16, 2019. Courtesy NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

The experts estimated that the ship was roughly 124 feet long and built in the mid-19th century, based on how the ship was built. The ship was a wooden sailing vessel with copper sheathing on the bottom of its hull.

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The experts weren't able to determine the ship's nationality from what they saw. While they were able to estimate when the ship was built, it could have been in use for decades before it sank.

The numbers "2109" are seen along the trailing edge of the rudder of a shipwreck discovered on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico on May 16, 2019.
The numbers "2109" are seen along the trailing edge of the rudder of a shipwreck discovered on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico on May 16, 2019. Courtesy NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

Some of the ship's timbers appeared charred, which the agency said may mean that a fire nearly engulfed the ship before it sank. That scenario could also explain why there was a lack of personal possessions and artifacts from the ship's decks, rigging and upper works.

The bow of a shipwreck rests on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico on May 16, 2019.
The bow of a shipwreck rests on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico on May 16, 2019. Courtesy NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research

Nothing was taken from the shipwreck for further analysis. The Okeanos Explorer was in the Gulf for 12 days and docked in Florida on May 24.

Shipwrecks and lost treasure
Shipwrecks and lost treasure 21 photos

First published on May 31, 2019 / 11:25 AM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Alex Sundby

Alex Sundby is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

Twitter The remote-operated vehicle Deep Discoverer approaches the bow of a shipwreck on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico on May 16, 2019. The numbers "2109" are seen along the trailing edge of the rudder of a shipwreck discovered on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico on May 16, 2019. The bow of a shipwreck rests on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico on May 16, 2019. Shipwrecks and lost treasure

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