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Wreck of Capt. Morgan's Pirate Ship Found, Archaeologists Say

Captain Morgan's ship found

A team of U.S. archaeologists study the wreckage of a ship they believe to be part of pirate captain Henry Morgan's lost vessel. The dive team discovered approximately 52x22 feet of the starboard side of a 17th century wooden ship hull and a series of unopened cargo boxes and chests encrusted in coral. (Captain Morgan / Chris Bickford)

The lost wreckage of a ship belonging to 17th century pirate Captain Henry Morgan has been discovered in Panama, said a team of U.S. archaeologists -- and the maker of Captain Morgan rum. 

Near the Lajas Reef, where Morgan lost five ships in 1671 including his flagship "Satisfaction," the team uncovered a portion of the starboard side of a wooden ship's hull and a series of unopened cargo boxes and chests encrusted in coral.

The cargo has yet to be opened, but Captain Morgan USA -- which sells the spiced rum named for the eponymous pirate -- is clearly hoping there's liquor in there. 

"There's definitely an irony in the situation," Fritz Hanselmann, an archaeologist with the River Systems Institute and the Center for Archaeological Studies at Texas State University and head of the dive team, told KVUE Austin. The Captain Morgan rum group stepped in on the quest for Captain Morgan after the team -- which found a collection of iron cannons nearby -- ran out of funds before they could narrow down the quest.

The new funding let the team run a magnetometer survey, which looks for metal by finding any deviation in the earth's magnetic field.

"When the opportunity arose for us to help make this discovery mission possible, it was a natural fit for us to get involved. The artifacts uncovered during this mission will help bring Henry Morgan and his adventures to life in a way never thought possible," said Tom Herbst, brand director of Captain Morgan USA, in a statement.

In the 17th century, Captain Henry Morgan sailed as a privateer on behalf of England, defending the Crown's interests and pioneering expeditions to the New World. In 1671, in an effort to capture Panama City and loosen the stronghold of Spain in the Caribbean, Morgan set out to take the Castillo de San Lorenzo, a Spanish fort on the cliff overlooking the entrance to the Chagres River, the only water passageway between the Caribbean and the capital city. 

Although his men ultimately prevailed, Morgan lost five ships to the rough seas and shallow reef surrounding the fort.

The underwater research team included archaeologists and divers from Texas State University, volunteers from the National Park Service's Submerged Resources Center and NOAA/UNC-Wilmington's Aquarius Reef Base. And pirate booty or no, they said the story of Captain Henry Morgan was the real treasure.

"To us, the ship is the treasure -- the story is the treasure," Hanselman told MSNBC's Alan Boyle. "And you don't have a much better story than Captain Henry Morgan's sack of Panama City and the loss of his five ships."

Artifacts excavated by the dive team in 2010, including the six cannons, as well as any future relics will remain the property of the Panamanian government and will be preserved and displayed by the Patronato Panama Viejo.