10 Aug 2012

Divers claim Tongan wreck a pirate ship

10:41 am on 10 August 2012

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

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

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 a treasure ship.

There was a good deal of sailing ship traffic in the nineteenth century, all around Tonga, and especially after the coconut oil trade got underway around 1850, he says. It could be any one of a number of ships which sank in storms.