Cracking the case? The Shipwreck of the ‘Coconut’ yielded some valuable silver and gold coins, which are at the centre of legal proceedings in the US. *iStock photo
Cracking the case? The Shipwreck of the ‘Coconut’ yielded some valuable silver and gold coins, which are at the centre of legal proceedings in the US. *iStock photo

A shipwreck off Bermuda is at the centre of a US court case involving nearly $200,000 worth of silver coins.

The ‘Coconut’ was on her way from Jamaica across the Atlantic when she sank in a hurricane in 1810.

The boat was not discovered until 1999 when it was touted as the deepest treasure wreck ever found.

A haul that included more than 1,300 silver coins and a handful of gold coins was recovered from the ‘Coconut wreck’.

The 1,300 silver coins have now become the subject of legal proceedings in South Florida after William Wolfe, 70, was arrested for the theft of the treasure. Yesterday the Sun Sentinel newspaper reported that Mr Wolfe had been charged with illegally keeping the colonial Spanish coins after he had sold them to a collector for $190,000.

The article stated: “Authorities say he received payment for the coins, but didn’t deliver his end of the deal. According to a Broward sheriff’s report, Wolfe contacted Dennis Raber and offered him a lot of about 1,100 silver coins that was reportedly salvaged from an 1810 ‘Coconut wreck’ discovered off Bermuda.”

Local wreck experts said the case demonstrated the importance of laws regulating wrecks.

Dr Phillipe Rouja, custodian of historic wrecks, said: “This story underlines the value of having shipwreck legislation that only allows access to shipwrecks following strict guidelines.

“A shipwreck discovery of this importance in Bermuda waters today would require the application of the highest archaeological recovery standards. 

“This allows for the production of professional-grade reports on the wreck, the formation of publicly accessible collections of artifacts found on the wreck, and also offers us rare access to a window into Bermuda’s Maritime history. 

“The Bermuda Historic Wrecks Act 2001 instituted in 2003 promises that should someone come forward with such a discovery, the highest scientific standards would have to be applied.”

The ‘Coconut’ wreck was first spotted in 1990 by underwater explorer Curt Newport. It was not until 2001 when Michael McDowell used a pair of Russian submarines to view the wreck, that they discovered the remains of a wooden trading vessel loaded with coconuts.

A chest filled with more than 1,300 silver coins was soon recovered, along with a small, ornate gold box containing 13 gold coins wrapped in a newspaper dated August 6, 1809.

These gold coins were sold at auction in 2008 by Stack’s in New York, who dubbed this the ‘Coconut wreck’, despite its earlier names given by divers and promoters of ‘Piña Colada wreck’ and ‘Atlantic Tar-get Expedition wreck’.