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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 20:43 GMT 21:43 UK
Famous ghost ship found
An expedition has discovered the final resting place of the ship at the heart of one of the world's most puzzling and enduring mysteries, the Mary Celeste.

A group headed by the author Clive Cussler and film producer John Davis said it had discovered the ghost ship's remains lying on the Rochelais reef, off the coast of Haiti.

The true story of her missing crew may never be known

Clive Cussler, expedition leader
The ship was found sailing off the Azores in 1872 with no-one aboard. The captain, his wife and two-year-old daughter were inexplicably missing.

The team are expected to announce further details of their discovery and display artefacts recovered from the wreck by divers on Thursday.

The wooden vessel is almost completely covered by coral, which made tracking it down all the more difficult.

"After her eerie abandonment, the ship sailed under different owners for 12 years, until her last captain loaded her with a cargo of cheap rubber boots and cat food before deliberately sinking her," Mr Davis said.

Insurance fraud

Mr Davis said the captain had tried to scuttle the ship by running her into the Rochelais reef off the coast of Haiti, but failed when the ship grounded on the coral and refused to sink.

Mystery ship
1860: Mary Celeste built in Nova Scotia
31 metres long, 7.6 metres wide
1872: Discovered drifting and deserted
1884: Scuttled off Haiti in attempted insurance fraud
1884: Arthur Conan Doyle writes 'Marie Celeste', blurring fact and fiction

The skipper then attempted to file "an exorbitant insurance claim for an exotic cargo that never existed," Mr Davis said.

After insurance inspectors investigated and discovered the ship's actual cargo, the captain and his first mate were convicted on charges of what was then known as "barratry".

Dr Cussler said the fate of the original crew of the Mary Celeste looks likely to remain a mystery.

The best-selling author has helped to lead expeditions which have located nearly 70 historic shipwrecks, including the US Confederate submarine Hunley and the Carpathia, the ship that rescued survivors from the Titanic.

Chequered history

Some 103ft (31.3ft) long, the Marie Celeste was built in Nova Scotia in 1860.

Numa website
The Numa website carries details of the hunt for the ship

In her first decade at sea she earned a chequered reputation after being involved in a number of accidents.

On 7 November 1872, the ship sailed from New York for Genoa in Italy with a cargo of raw alcohol. Her captain was Benjamin Briggs, accompanied by his wife, young daughter and a crew of eight

Just over a month after she left port the ship was discovered deserted and drifting off the Azores by the British cargo ship Dei Gratia, and towed to Gibraltar.

Neither the Briggs family nor the crew were ever seen again.

Mystery

British officials dismissed any suggestion of piracy or foul play as there were no signs of violence - but were at a complete loss to explain what had become of the ship's company.

Explanations have ranged from a mutiny, piracy or insurance fraud, to underwater seismic disturbances and even alien abduction.

However a popular theory suggests that the crew perished after taking to a lifeboat fearing the ship's cargo may have been about to explode.

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