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9042: Ghost ship Mary Celeste and Haiti (fwd)

From: Greg Chamberlain <GregChamberlain@compuserve.com>

     By Sue Dexter

     HALIFAX, Nova Scotia, Sept 4 (Reuters) - James Delgado carefully
cradles pieces of coral-encrusted wood and corroded metal in his
white-gloved hands. He says they're pieces of the Mary Celeste, one of the
most notorious ghost ships in maritime history.
     They were found in April near Haiti, by a documentary television crew
filming a series about famous wrecks.
     In 1872, the 103-foot (31.4 metre) Mary Celeste was discovered
drifting in the mid-Atlantic near the Azores. The ship, which had been
sailing from New York to Genoa, Italy, was in perfect condition, but its
crew, including the captain, his wife and 2-year old daughter, had vanished
without a trace.
     A formal inquiry found no signs of foul play, but could not unravel
the mystery.  The ship's lifeboat was missing and the Mary Celeste was
dragging a tow-line, suggesting it had been abandoned, but the fate of the
captain, his family and the crew remained unsolved.
     The Mary Celeste returned to service for another 12 years, under
various names and owners, but the ship was always considered unlucky and
ended its days ingloriously driven on to a reef near Haiti as part of an
insurance scam.
     Delgado says he feels lucky to be holding a piece of the ship, though.
He's a marine archeologist and host of a television program called "Sea
Hunters," and it's his dream to retrace the Mary Celeste and her story.
     In a Halifax museum dedicated to marine history, Delgado and the
show's producer explain what makes them so sure these artifacts are the
real thing.
     First, there's the location. The wreck that yielded these artifacts
was found near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on a tiny reef island made of
millions of conch shells and inhabited by fishermen.
     John Davis, the president of Eco Nova Productions, says old insurance
company records led the wreck hunters there.
     The Mary Celeste's last captain loaded her with rubber boots and cat
food and deliberately grounded her on the reef in order to claim the
insurance, but his claim was so exorbitant -- he lied that the cargo was
far more exotic -- the insurance company became suspicious and went to
Haiti to investigate.
     It found the Mary Celeste damaged but still afloat. After her cargo
was removed, locals removed her fittings and set her ablaze.
     Delgado says the wreck they've found is the right size. Using a
sophisticated metal detector, the crew of the "Sea Hunters" were able to
map out the wreck's dimensions, and they match those of the Mary Celeste.
     And he's had the artifacts analyzed in a lab.
     A chunk that comes from the wreck's keel is white oak. When the Mary
Celeste was rebuilt in New York, the ship was given a new keel made of
white oak. Wood that was used in the frame of the wreck is yellow birch, a
species found in Nova Scotia, where the ship was built. It was called the
Amazon then, and was renamed the Mary Celeste after being refitted in New
York in 1865.
     All this has convinced Delgado the wreck on Rochelais Reef is the
ghost ship Mary Celeste.
     Other ships have been found abandoned at sea, but the Mary Celeste
took prominence because of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock
Holmes, who used the mystery of the vanished crew as the basis for a
fictional story called "Marie Celeste."
     Adventure writer Clive Cussler, who wrote the novel "Raise the
Titanic" says we'll probably never know what happened to the crew of the
real ship, but identifying the wreck is as close to an ending of the story
of the Mary Celeste we will ever have.
     Cussler, who also wrote the non-fiction book "The Sea Hunters," which
inspired the TV series, is also founder of the National Underwater and
Marine Agency, which is dedicated to preserving marine history.
     "The Sea Hunters" program will premiere on History Television, and
then be shown on the National Geographic Channel International in more than
100 counties.
     As for the Mary Celeste artifacts, they will find a home in the
Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.