Smuggler's Shipwrecked Steamer Found

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Archaeology pioneer and treasure hunter E. Lee Spence holds two portholes from the SS Ozama.
E. Lee Spence

The wreck of a 19th century steamer that smuggled guns, carried hundreds of thousands of dollars and possibly gold, has been discovered off the coast of South Carolina, US explorers have announced today.

Found off Cape Romain in about 40 feet of water, the ship has been identified as the SS Ozama by underwater archaeology pioneer and treasure hunter Dr. E. Lee Spence.

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“We have positively identified the vessel through the engine type, length, width, type of decking and other construction features, as well as its location, which matches perfectly with historical accounts,” Spence told Discovery News.

According to Spence, who has discovered many other historically significant shipwrecks, the iron-hulled SS Ozama steamer is "in surprisingly good condition with most of the ship relatively intact and sitting upright."

The 1028-ton, 216-ft, 5-in-long vessel was born in Scotland in 1881 as the British steamer Craigallion and was used in 1884 to tow from New York to Central America one of the great dredges employed in the construction of the Panama Canal.

But it wrecked in the Bahamas a year later and was salvaged by an American wrecking steamer and renamed Ozama after the river in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic -- one of the ship's regular ports of call.

“The vessel made a number trips to Panama and other ports in the Caribbean, sailing into turbulent times,” Spence said.

“Her colorful history is packed with events such as a mutiny and extensive gun and money smuggling to Haiti,” he added.

Indeed, a December 1888 account of the New York Times recorded that the Ozama was carrying “1,000 stands of arms, 3 Gatling guns and 500,000 cartridges to Cape Haytien.”

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The newspaper stated that the arms were “doubtless” for the use of Haitian president Hippolyte’s soldiers. In poor health, he was facing a plot aimed at overthrowing his government.

In another article, the New York Times reported that the Ozama carried $300,000 in paper money to Haiti -- the first tranche of $1,000,000 meant to replace a previous issue of paper money.