10 Aug 2012

Tonga treasure claim doubted

10:17 am on 10 August 2012

Divers in Tonga claim they've found an historic pirate ship containing a legendary bounty of sunken treasure.

They say a wreck, found off the coast of Foa Island, in the Ha'apai Island group, is the Port-au-Prince, a 200-year-old English ship of war.

The Port-au-Prince sailed into Pacific waters in search of whales in 1806 after straying from its main mission of capturing treasure from Spanish ships.

Local legend says a Tongan chief seized the ship, massacred the crew, then sank the vessel with its bounty on board.

But a historian who has written extensively on Tonga, Dr Ian Campbell, says he's not convinced the wreck is the treasure ship.

"There was a good deal of sailing ship traffic in the nineteenth century, all around Tonga, and especially after about 1850 or so once the coconut oil trade got underway. And it could be any one of a number of ships which foundered in foul weather."