Unlicensed salvagers have been identified as the biggest threat to the shipwreck of HMS Victory in a report. More than 1,000 sailors drowned when the British warship, the predecessor to Lord Nelson's Victory, sank in a storm.
The report is part of the public consultation into the future management of the 1744 shipwreck in the English Channel. Consultation ends on 30 June. The authors of the report said unauthorised salvage could result in "irreparable damage" to the wreck site.
Wessex Archaeology, a registered charity with educational aims, produced the report for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Ministry of Defence which are carrying out the consultation.
It said the site had not been significantly affected by natural processes, but suffered "some level of past physical damage" from trawling or other fishing activity.
It also said the "greatest threat to the site", which lies within the range of some divers, was likely to come from "unauthorised attempts to recover items such as the bronze cannon or to search destructively for bullion and other valuables".
Wessex Archaeology added there was "little evidence" that more than $1bn of gold bullion reportedly aboard the ship actually existed.