Department of Conservation Services
By Owain Johnston-Barnes - Royal Gazette
This summer, the Marine Heritage section of the Department of Conservation Services will work to rescue artifacts from the shipwreck of the blockade runner, the Marie Celeste.
Recent storms have exposed more of the ship’s bow, revealing its contents while at the same time placing the artifacts at risk.
Dr Philippe Max Rouja, Custodian of Historic Wrecks from the Department of Conservation Services, said he believes a large storm sometime in the last 20 years blew out the light, loose sand out of the bow and exposed the denser seabed material below, together with the artifacts buried inside.
“With this protective layer gone little by little, the denser material gets washed away so that now, each subsequent time the sand is removed, in even a light storm event, more of this dense layer is removed, exposing and endangering these unexpected artifacts,” he said.
The Marie Celeste, also known as the Mary Celestia a Confederate paddle steamer sank in 1864 in mysterious circumstances while being piloted by John Virgin. It has since become a popular landmark for divers, enjoyed by both locals and visitors. Dr Rouja said that since 2004 his department has carried out post-hurricane assessments at several wrecks around the Island.
“I decided it was important to conduct these surveys after hearing reports from some of Bermuda’s most experienced divers and dive shops that hurricane Fabian had exposed a significant portion of the Marie Celeste, including remnants of broken artifacts, specifically in and near the bow,” he said.
“The shipwreck of the Marie Celeste is an artifact in its own right. Unlike almost any other shipwreck in Bermuda, it speaks directly to our wider Atlantic maritime history.”
In January, following a series of winter storms, divers discovered a well-preserved and still corked bottle of wine and the top of a wooden crate, leading many to believe that a portion of the ships Civil War era cargo, intended to be delivered to Wilmington, remains in part inside the bow.
“We initially speculated that if she sank bow first, the wine bottles and case may have tumbled there from the general cargo are at the time of her sinking,” Dr Rouja said.
“However, this area, though seemingly relatively open today, would have in 1864 consisted of a series of small bulkheads.
“I think we can safely speculate that these items were hidden there quite on purpose, representing someone’s private stash of contraband.”