South Pacific wreck may be full of pirate treasure

  • @kathymarksoz

The wreck of a 19th-century pirate ship believed to contain a hoard of treasure may finally have been found off Tonga, according to officials on the South Pacific island.

The Port-au-Prince, a British privateer which had seized treasure from French and Spanish vessels, sailed into Tongan waters in 1806 in search of whales. However, it was seized by the local chief, Finau Ulukalala II, whose warriors massacred most of the crew, including the captain, William Thompson, and then scuttled it, so Tongan legend goes.

Although the chief salvaged cannons and iron – then of great value in Tonga – from the ship, the rest of the treasure was supposedly left intact. Sandra Fifita, a local tourism official, said the Port-au-Prince's hold was believed to contain "a considerable amount of copper, silver and gold … along with a number of silver candlesticks, incense pans, crucifixes and chalices".

Over the years, many adventurers have searched for the ship without success, but last month a Tongan diver, Tevita Moala, came across wreckage off Foa Island, in the Ha'apai island group. Darren Rice, a resort owner who has visited the site, said the Port-au-Prince was the only ship from that era to have gone missing in the Ha'apai area.

Britain's National Maritime Museum has dated the wreck at between 1780 and 1850, on the basis of copper cladding on its hull. Ms Fifita said that local divers were still mapping the wreck for further study.