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Treasure Hunters Say They’ve Found A 1744 Shipwreck

Sea explorers probing the depths of the English Channel have discovered what they say is a legendary British warship that sank in a fierce storm in 1744, losing more than 900 men and possibly four tons of gold coins that could be worth $1 billion.

The team found the wreckage of the warship, the HMS Victory, last year and confirmed its identity through a close examination of 41 bronze cannons visible on the sandy bottom, Gregory P. Stemm, head of the discovery team, said Monday at a news conference in London.

The team lifted two of the cannons from the seabed and gave them to the British Defense Ministry, he said. The team’s leaders are now negotiating with British authorities on the disposition of the artifacts and treasure before the divers attempt further recoveries.

“I’m surprised we’ve been able to keep it under wraps for nine months,” Stemm said at the news conference, calling the shipwreck “a momentous discovery.” He is the chairman and chief executive officer of Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. of Tampa, Fla., a publicly traded company that specializes in deep sea exploration and recovery.

In a telephone interview, Stemm said that the discovery, made far from the ship’s believed resting place, was “hard to beat” in terms of raw history, lost treasure and solved mysteries. He said the find cleared the name of the warship’s commander, Adm. Sir John Balchin, whose navigation had been impugned after the catastrophic loss.

The news conference was held by the Discovery Channel, which plans to show a segment about the ship on Thursday on its weekly program “Treasure Quest,” which had its debut last month.

The Victory was armed with as many as 110 bronze cannons, making it one of the deadliest vessels of the age. The largest cannon weighed four tons and could fire cannonballs of 42 pounds — making it the most powerful gun then used in naval warfare.

American U.N. Official Abducted In Pakistan

A senior U.N. official was abducted and his driver was killed Monday morning in the southwestern city of Quetta, according to U.N. and Pakistani officials.

The United Nations identified the official as John Solecki, an American, who was heading the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.

“We are confirming that an unfortunate incident happened this morning when Mr. John Solecki was abducted,” Amena Kamal, the spokeswoman for the United Nations in Islamabad, said by telephone.

John Redmond, the spokesman for the U.N. refugee office in Geneva also confirmed the abduction but gave no details. The agency has 49 staff members in Quetta, where it has worked since 1980. It provides support to some 400,000 Afghan refugees in 10 villages and camps, agency officials said.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

A Pakistani security official said that such a high-profile kidnapping was unusual in Quetta and that he believed that Solecki probably had been seized for ransom or by the Taliban.

Solecki had been in Pakistan for about two years, Kamal said. She said he was headed to work Monday morning when his vehicle was intercepted by gunmen. The driver was shot during the abduction and died on the way to the hospital, she said.

Television images showed the white Toyota vehicle of Solecki rammed against a wall by the roadside — apparently as a result of the driver losing control of the vehicle after it came under fire. The police cordoned off the street after the incident.

Kamal said there had been no prior threats.

U.N. officials said the aid agency was in touch with the Pakistani government to try to obtain Solecki’s release.