Shipwreck Gold? Discovery of Ozama Could Hold Treasure

Wednesday, 05 Jun 2013 05:01 PM

By Ken Mandel

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The wreck of the SS Ozama, a storied 19th-century gun transport steamship that may also contain a gold treasure has been identified off the South Carolina coast.

"The secret is out. We've discovered the wreck of the SS Ozama," noted underwater archaeologist E. Lee Spence wrote on his Facebook page Monday.

The 1028-ton, 216-foot-long iron-hulled steamboat has an interesting past after its 1881 launch in Scotland as the Craigallion. The ship was active in the Caribbean Seas and helped build the Panama Canal.

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Following a wreck in the Bahamas in 1885, the ship was rechristened Ozama, after a river in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, one of its regular ports.

On its way to Charleston, S.C., in November of 1894, the Ozama struck the shoals off Cape Romain, and punctured holes in the engine-room compartment. Early in the morning, the ship "sank in six and a half fathoms of water," according to a New York
Times report from that year.

The captain and crew survived, but the ship was lost.

Spence, who has been discovering shipwrecks for more than 50 years, including the H.L. Hunley and SS Georgiana, initially found the Ozama in 1979, but wasn't able to positively identify it until recently.

"I had absolutely no idea it might be valuable until this year when I finally learned her identity during a research on other wrecks," Spence told WBTW News 13.

As the exclusive owner of the wreck, Spence may literally be sitting on top of a gold mine. Part of the ship's shady past includes illegal smuggling operations.

"Her colorful history is packed with events such as a mutiny and extensive gun and money smuggling to Haiti," Spence told Discovery News.

Citing an 1888 New York Times report, Yahoo! News reported that the ship was carrying "1,000 stands of arms, 3 Gatling guns and 500,000 cartridges to Cape Haytien (a Haitian port) ...  doubtless for the use of Hyppolyte's soldiers," referring to Haitian President Florvil Hyppolyte, who at the time was locked in a power struggle for control of Haiti.

"Newspaper accounts said she was traveling in ballast, without cargo," Spence told Yahoo! "Ships reporting themselves as traveling in ballast often carried money and even other cargo. When you are smuggling, the smuggled cargo often isn't listed
or is intentionally mislisted."

In addition to gold, Spence hopes to find other historical artifacts. He continues to map the wreck to ensure the hull's integrity.

"While reports of the ship's cargo and passengers' effects make the Ozama wreck intriguing, it is also a virtual time piece of history that has not been disturbed by careless salvage," Spence told Discovery.

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200-year-old Shipwreck Found in Gulf

Shipwreck Divers Find Treasure Trove Worth Millions in Caribbean

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