Page last updated at 20:21 GMT, Monday, 2 February 2009

'Mighty' HMS Victory wreck found

Artist's impression of how HMS Victory may have looked
Artist's impression of how HMS Victory may have looked

The wreck of a ship which has been found off the Channel Islands has been confirmed as the warship HMS Victory, which sank in 1744.

More than 1,000 sailors drowned when the British warship, the predecessor to Lord Nelson's Victory, sank in a storm.

The wreck, which could contain more than $1bn of gold, was discovered at the bottom of the English Channel by Odyssey Marine Exploration in May.

It was found 100km from where it was thought to have sunk near Alderney.

Although the remains of HMS Victory were found in international waters, as a military wreck, any gold recovered will be the property of the UK government.

A piece of my family history and of national history has come alive

Sir Robert Balchin

Greg Stemm, chief executive officer of Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration, said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had given the company permission to go back down to the wreck to try to find the treasure.

He said he was in negotiations and would expect to be rewarded for the find.

"The money is not as important as the cultural and historical significance of the discovery," Mr Stemm said.

"It is a monumental event, not only for Odyssey but for the world. It is probably the most significant shipwreck find to date.

"HMS Victory was the mightiest vessel of the 18th Century and the eclectic mix of guns we found on the site will prove essential in further refining our understanding of naval weaponry used during the era."

Cannon from the wreck of HMS Victory
The cannons are being guarded at a secret location

Speaking at a press conference in London, Mr Stemm said the wreck had been identified as HMS Victory when he raised two extremely rare bronze cannon, measuring 12ft (3.6m) and weighing four tonnes, which could only have belonged to the British man-of-war.

The MoD is guarding the cannons at a secret location, and 39 more guns have been identified on the sea bed, making it the largest collection in the world.

The discovery of HMS Victory exonerates Admiral Sir John Balchin, who came out of retirement to command the ship, on what was meant to be his final voyage.

Historians believed the ship was lost due to poor navigation on the Casquets, a group of rocks north-west of Alderney.

But the wreck's location, 62 miles (100km) away from the rocks, suggests the 74-year-old admiral was not to blame.

His descendant Sir Robert Balchin said: "A piece of my family history and of national history has come alive.

"As a family we have always been proud of Sir John but this confirms what a fantastic admiral he was."

Georgian artefacts

Part of a skeleton, including a skull, a wooden rudder, remains of the ship's hull, an iron ballast, two anchors, a copper kettle and rigging have been spotted on the sea bed.

Only the cannon, marked with the crest of King George I, have been recovered so far, but millions of artefacts are expected to be found, shedding light on what life was like in the Georgian Navy.

Mr Stemm said he hoped to return to the site as soon as possible, because marine life and trawler movements are slowly destroying it.

Odyssey Marine Exploration's find was filmed for the Discovery Channel. Treasure Quest; Victory Special will be shown at 2100 GMT on 8 February.

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