Local Hero Pirate Treasure

SUNKEN treasure consisting of gold and ancient coins has been found by divers in a Banffshire sea cave. The find, which could be worth thousands or even millions, was made by a group of four divers from the Glasgow area who have recently formed their own salvage company. One is the son of a local fishing family. Included in the find are the wrecks of at least one and more likely two old wooden boats, which lay under overhanging rock and are invisible to sonar. Part of their contents has been washed by currents into the nearby cave under a sea cliff. At present the divers do not know the extent of the find, and have only brought ashore small samples from the cave for verification. Samples of gold and coins have been examined by the Banffshire Journal. The gold is in the form of irregular-shaped granules about 2mm across, and was found on the cave floor in small, tightly-corked bottles. It has been assayed at 23 carat - almost pure. The group also say they have seen what they believe to be gold and silver bullion bars at the site. They confess to having just no idea of the extent of the find. Of a small box of coins examined, most appear to be of bronze, about the size of 5p pieces. Almost all are very badly worn and corroded by the sea, but the face of one clearly shows the head of an emperor-like figure, while the "tails" side of another shows a figure carrying a flag bearing a saltier cross. The Banffshire Journal has agreed to keep the identities of the divers and the exact location of the find secret - for two reasons. Firstly, the submerged cave is tucked tight under a sea cliff and is described by the team as an extremely dangerous place in which to dive, washed by strong currents and only accessible to experienced divers for a short time on the low-water slack. Neither the diving group nor this newspaper wish to put amateur treasure hunters in danger. The second reason for secrecy is that legal rights on the find have yet to be established. The group plan to legalise their claim this week by registering it, as the law demands, with the Receiver of Wreck, an official of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. The group made the first dive on the site three weeks ago, approaching by boat because access from the landward side is extremely dangerous, if not impossible. They decided on the location having heard heard historic tales of pirates and smugglers along the Banffshire coast. They examined the boats and their cargo. One of the dive team said: "A large amount of the bounty is badly encrusted and worn by the sea, but about 40 per cent of it looks cleanable. In addition to the treasure items there is glass and pottery, and many caskets, possibly of wood, which could not be opened to reveal their secrets. "The sea currents in this area are very strong, and it is very dangerous to dive. We were also hampered by poor light under rock shelves which have protected the wooden ships and their cargoes." Another of the team explained: "We brought up nothing from the wrecks - largely because of the divers' superstition about removing material from within sunken vessels. The stuff we brought up was some of that which had been washed into the cave under the sea cliff. "One frightening thing about the dive is that the area is inhabited by many conger eels. Under water it is difficult to estimate their size, but some appeared to be almost six feet long. I don't know whether they would attack, but they can be quite scary." The group plans a further series of dives at the site this summer, and the position will become clearer when the find has been officially registered. Among various things the group wishes to find out is whether they will be able to keep the profits from any material they bring to the surface.

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