Mardi Gras Shipwreck, Gulf of Mexico shipwreck, HMS Ontario
The Houston Chronicle, James Nielsen/AP
A dolphin jumps out of the water in front of the bow a ship heading out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Salvaged Artifacts May Help Solve Mystery of ‘Mardi Gras’ Shipwreck

October 31, 2008 02:29 PM
by Josh Katz
Researchers have revealed the findings of their investigation into a mysterious sunken ship dated from the turn of the 19th century, filled with weapons.

Mardi Gras Findings Disclosed

A sunken ship from the late 18th or early 19th century, dubbed the “Mardi Gras” shipwreck, is intriguing archaeologists. On Wednesday, the U.S. Minerals Management Service published a report on its findings that is about 300 pages long, in which it describes the results of “the deepest scientific recovery of artifacts ever attempted in the Gulf of Mexico,” according to the press release. The shipwreck is approximately 35 miles off the coast of Louisiana and 4,000 feet underwater.

The Gulf of Mexico was essentially a lawless area at the turn of the 19th century, controlled by privateers, the Houston Chronicle reports. America, Britain, France and Spain all leveraged for footholds in the Gulf. The Mardi Gras vessel is thought to be either a pirate ship or a merchant ship.

An oilfield inspection crew from the Okeanos Gas Gathering Co. had first spotted the wreckage in 2002 when it was inspecting the area in preparation for the construction of a deep natural gas pipeline called the Mardi Gras Gas Transmission System. The Okeanos Gas Gathering Co. and the U.S. Minerals Management Service then provided funding for Texas A&M University researchers to carry out their investigation, according to an article about Nautilus Productions’ documentary on the shipwreck, called “Mystery Mardi Gras Shipwreck.”

But the research team, headed by a Texas A&M scientist, has been unable to identify the ship, what it what used for, and exactly at what time it sank. Ben Ford, a nautical archaeologist at Texas A&M University, indicates that the ship was most likely either a schooner or a sloop that sank between 1808 and 1820, the Houston Chronicle reports.
According to the Mardi Gras Shipwreck Project, a stove from the ship helped the team infer the date that the vessel sank. The research team believes it is a Brodie Patent Stove, and Alexander Brodie first started to patent his invention around 1780.

“The most likely supposition is that it probably sailed right around the War of 1812, which is pretty interesting,” said Jack Irion of the U.S. Minerals Management Service in New Orleans, which has monitored the project for the U.S. Department of the Interior, according to the article about the documentary. “It’s still debatable about what this vessel was doing, but we’re leaning toward the idea that it could have been a pirate vessel. It could have been a merchant ship, but it was pretty heavily armed for a merchant ship.” Irion also says that most of the artifacts taken from the ship are believed to be from 1810. 

The archaeologists and oceanographers began examining the wreck in the summer of 2007, unearthing artifacts and taking the video footage with two remotely operated vehicles, the Houston Chronicle reports. Some of the artifacts are a “cannon, cannon shot for a few different sizes of cannon, and a chest of weapons including carbines, rifles and swords.” Compasses, an hourglass, two octants, a coffee maker, British ceramics, a French spoon, and Spanish coins are some of the nonmilitary discoveries.

“It’s a fairly large arsenal,” said Ford. “They were either out for mischief, or they were concerned about coming to some harm.”

Related Topic: Recently discovered shipwrecks

Earlier in October, the U.S. Navy verified that three brothers, the sons of a commanding officer who disappeared during World War II, helped discover their father’s missing submarine, the USS Grunion.

On July 30, 1942, the submarine made its final communication with the United States, reporting on heavy antisubmarine activity near Kiska island, part of the Aleutian Islands of Alaska, findingDulcinea wrote. Almost a month later, the ship was declared lost.

Bruce, Brad, and John Abele, the sons of Lt. Cmdr. Mannert L. Abele, learned about the possible whereabouts of their father’s ship in 2002 thanks to chance Internet postings by two history buffs, and helped initiate an expedition to uncover it.

In late September of this year, it was reported that Hurricane Ike exposed a shipwreck near Alabama that was tentatively identified as the schooner Monticello, lost in 1862. However, a 2000 report by the Army Corps of Engineers argued that the wreck was actually the schooner Rachel, which sank in 1933.

In another high seas discovery, in June 2008, a sunken British warship was discovered after it had been lost for 228 years. The HMS Ontario had been the largest British war ship to ever sail in the Great Lakes until it sank in 1780, after just five months on the water. The ship and its crew disappeared in a blizzard on Halloween night.

In May, Spain argued the ownership of a naval ship shot down in 1804 and its $500 million of coins, found by a Miami diving company. Spain maintained that the boat in question was the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a Spanish navy vessel that had more than 200 passengers aboard when it was sunk by the British. Spain has filed a formal complaint in a U.S. federal court in Miami to recover the boat and its contents on the premise that warships remain the property of their flag country.

Reference: The Mardi Gras shipwreck


Most Recent Beyond The Headlines