Dating of wreck's timbers puts wind in sails of the 'Mary Celeste' mystery

One of the most enduring mysteries of the sea has taken yet another twist. The Mary Celeste, located and recovered amid much celebration four years ago, is not the Mary Celeste, according to new evidence.

One of the most enduring mysteries of the sea has taken yet another twist. The Mary Celeste, located and recovered amid much celebration four years ago, is not the Mary Celeste, according to new evidence.

The legendary ship, discovered empty and adrift of the Azores more than 130 years ago, is still out there.

In 2001, the author Clive Cussler claimed to have found the wreck of the brig, sunk off the coast of Haiti, and retrieved timbers as proof.

Now, though, a Canadian analysis looks to have proved him wrong. Scott St George of the Geological Survey of Canada and the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research at the University of Arizona, analysed samples brought back from Haiti and discovered that the wood was cut from trees still living at least a decade after the Mary Celeste sank.

"I analysed some of the timbers and the tree-ring dating suggested that they couldn't have been part of the Mary Celeste," said Mr St George. "The outermost ring suggests the timber was from trees still growing in 1894, but the Mary Celeste sank 10 years before that."

Mr St George also said that the type of wood - longleaf pine - was unlikely to have been used in the construction of the Mary Celeste, because it was not native to Nova Scotia, where she was built, or the area around New York, where she was refitted.

His claims look set to reignite interest in the story of a ship which many at the time, and in the decades since, have believed is cursed.

In December 1872, the ship set sail from New York with a cargo of alcohol bound for Genoa. She was discovered well stocked, in good condition and under full sail, but inexplicably abandoned by her captain, his family, and the crew, between the Azores and Portugal. No trace of anyone aboard was found.

Theories to account for the disappearance have ranged from mutiny and murder to an attack by a giant octopus, or even alien intervention. More scientific explanations are based around seaquakes, slanting water spouts or a small explosion in the cargo hold causing the crew to hurriedly abandon ship, with all hands subsequently lost.

After her discovery, the Mary Celeste was recommissioned, but continued to be linked with suspicious deaths and misfortune before she was sunk in an insurance scam in January 1885.

Mr St George's claims are reported in the first authoritative book on the case for three decades. The British historian Paul Begg, author of Mary Celeste: The Great Mystery of the Sea, which is published next month, said: "Nobody seems to have had any luck with that ship at all, right down to Clive Cussler.

"It looks like the jinx of the Mary Celeste has continued into the 21st century, and she is getting the last laugh from the grave."

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