by Louise Roseingrave
UNDERWATER archaeologists are investigating the wreck of a wooden merchant ship that carried a cargo of coconuts discovered during pipe works in Schull Harbour.
The ship, believed to date back to the 16th century, is buried in the seabed in 10m of water just off the shoreline.
Contracted underwater archaeologist Julianna O’Donoghue suspended pipe laying works on the multi-million Schull Wastewater Treatment plant when machines struck and partly damaged the wreck last week.
The ship’s cargo of coconuts was uncovered during this process.
Little is known of the wreck’s origins at present as archaeologist’s work continues.
An exclusion zone is in place around the wreck site and experts are keen to discourage looters from gaining access to any valuable materials on board.
Connie Kelleher, underwater archaeologist with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht said the wreck site is a protected site.
“We don’t want to reveal the exact location as we don’t want to make it a target for looters.
Because it’s over a hundred years old, it’s a protected wreck site. Nobody can legally dive on it without a licence from our department,” she said.
Believed to be a ‘sizeable’ vessel, the bulk of the wreck is buried in silt with only a small portion exposed.
Archaeologists are now working to determine how old it is and what it was doing in Irish waters, Ms Kelleher said.
“We don’t know too much about it as yet, only a small bit of wreck itself is exposed above the seabed.
Julianna is working to make sense of the wreck site, to record exactly what’s down there and document anything loose around the ship.
The site will then be assessed and we will look at how to protect it,” she said.