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Archaeologists identify remains of British ship HMS Forth which sank in the sea of Yucatan in 1849
Guided by these historical references, as well as the informant Francisco Cano Ocaña, the INAH team lead by Helena Barba Meinecke, responsible of the Underwater Archaeology area of the Yucatan Peninsula, was directed to the north of the reed and at a depth of 18 meters, observed several metallic elements that were dispersed in the shipwreck, the only one found in this area of the reef. Photo: HELENA BARBA-INAH.

Translated by: Cristina Perez Ayala


MERIDA.- 164 years since its shipwreck, a team of specialists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) identified the remains of the British ship HMS Forth which sank in the sea of Yucatan, at the Scorpion Reef. A painful death to anyone who sailed this sea has been warned since the XVI century by chronicler Gonzalo Fernandez of Oviedo.

The tragedy of the Forth, one of the packet boats of the Antilles line from the “Royal Mail Steam Packet Company”, was described in its time by the British newspaper Illustrated London News the 8th of March 1849. It was on the evening of January 14th that year, en route to Bermuda, where the vessel sank at the reef of said shoal, banging against rocks and practically breaking in half.

Guided by these historical references, as well as the informant Francisco Cano Ocaña, the INAH team lead by Helena Barba Meinecke, responsible of the Underwater Archaeology area of the Yucatan Peninsula, was directed to the north of the reed and at a depth of 18 meters, observed several metallic elements that were dispersed in the shipwreck, the only one found in this area of the reef.

Degraded and corroded, they found vestiges in situ of boilers, machines, axis, propellers, anchors and stern posts. Because of the stern posts –which were used as support for the vapor–, they have calculated that the Forth must have been approximately 1900 tons.

According to the British newspaper, the castaways were able to reach a small island near the site, approximately 3 kilometers [1.86 miles]. A few days later, they were rescued by the steam boat Dee and transported to the port of La Habana.

Although it will be necessary to conduct a deeper investigation, a pair of recently located shipwrecks appear to correspond to another boat of the “Royal Mail Steam Packet Company” sank in 1847, the HMS Tweed; as well as the Belgian ship Charlotte with sank six years later, in 1853.

130 kilometers [80.77 miles] north of port Progreso, “the Scorpions” –as they are known– possess a fatal celebrity because of the shipwrecks that have been attributed to the area since the XVI century up till today, which have been provoked by its complex web of reefs, sand banks and small islands that emerge discretely from the bottom of the sea.

The frequency of these accidents reached the ears of England’s Queen Victoria and it was the famous insurance company Lloyd’s that donated the lighthouse that during decades guided sailors from the Perez Island, one of the small islands that make up the Scorpion Reef.





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