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Indiana University Team Discovers Pirate Ship

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Indiana University Team Discovers Pirate Ship

Research News

Indiana University Team Discovers Pirate Ship

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JAMES HATTORI, host:

And now to a different kind of discovery. In the late 17th century, the notorious Captain William Kidd was sailing to New York to answer piracy charges after leading a treasure-laden ship he'd recently captured in Caribbean waters. The ship hasn't been seen since. But today researchers at Indiana University announced they found what they think is the Kidd shipwreck.

Charles Beeker led the team that found the wreck. He joins me now. Welcome to the program.

Professor CHARLES BEEKER (Indiana University): Glad to be here.

HATTORI: Now, this ship was undiscovered for centuries. What's its name and how did you find it?

Prof. BEEKER: Well, the vessel was known as the Quedagh Merchant when it was captured by Captain Kidd. He renamed it the Adventure Prize. You know, we found it totally by accident. We can't claim the discovery. A prominent Dominican Republic resident had told their government about a series of cannons he noted and asked the government the possibility of having someone look at it. The government immediately thought of Indiana University. We were in the country. They contacted us.

HATTORI: Now, one of the amazing things about this story is where it was found, right? I mean, pretty much in plain view, it seems like.

Prof. BEEKER: You know, it was remarkable. I'd been to literally thousands of shipwrecks. And this is the first one I've come upon that is in crystal clear Caribbean waters that's virtually untouched. Now, there's environmental concerns there. But as far as looting goes, this site has missed the eyes for 300 years, and we had to sit there the first time we looked at it and just say, gosh, I just can't believe that no one's found this before us.

HATTORI: What kind of a shape is the wreck in? I take it most of the hull is gone.

Prof. BEEKER: As a shipwreck, it's rather fascinating. The dominant features of the side are 26 cannons; many of them are actually stacked in the cargo hold the way they would have been when Captain Kidd put in the Quedagh Merchant when he scuttled and burned his first ship, the Adventure Galley. Numerous anchors were on the site. But we really haven't tried to do excavation yet. The first mission was to get the permits, get the permission to make it, the site, protected, and then ultimately we're going to turn it into a park for public visitation.

HATTORI: How significant is this find?

Prof. BEEKER: It's very significant. You know, you've got one of only three pirate vessels in North America that's been discovered, this being the third. The Quedagh Merchant is going to be a significant find, not only just for the history of the Caribbean, but for that time period.

You know, Captain Kidd was kind of a, I'd say a scapegoat. I mean, he really wasn't, I don't feel, a pirate. He was a privateer. However, of course he was sent to England and hanged as a pirate, so it's kind of hard to rule against the verdict, I guess.

HATTORI: So back then in the late 17th century, what was a privateer as opposed to a pirate?

Prof. BEEKER: A privateer is someone that has a letter from the government, a latter of marquis; it indicates they are commissioned to go sail against the enemies of the crown. But he was definitely a privateer versus a pirate, which is going out to capture anybody's flag and anybody's goods.

HATTORI: And what everybody wants to know about this ship is, is there like gold or lots of treasure to be found?

Prof. BEEKER: Well, you know, I'm an archaeologist. The treasure is in the actual artifacts themselves - the cannons, the anchors. There is no gold or silver on this wreck.

HATTORI: Charles Beeker directs the Underwater Science Program at Indiana University.

Thanks for joining us, sir.

Prof. BEEKER: My pleasure.

(Soundbite of song, "Captain Kidd")

GREAT BIG SEA: (Singing) My name is Captain Kidd. And I've sailed, and I've sailed, oh, my name is Captain Kidd. And I've sailed, my name is Captain Kidd and God's laws I did forbid...

HATTORI: Yo-ho and more to come on DAY TO DAY.

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