Location: Five miles off the coast of Cape RomainSize: 216 feet, 5 inches long; weighs 1,028 tonsBuilt in: 1881Sank in: 1894Source: Lee Spence
Shipwreck hunter Lee Spence said he has found the remains of the SS Ozama, a 19th-century ship he claims was used for smuggling guns and maybe even gold.
But there’s no official record that he found anything.
Spence’s claims about the sunken ship, which he said is about 5 miles off the coast of Cape Romain, are based on research he has done himself.
He said the Ozama is a 1,028-ton, 216-foot-long ship once used for smuggling guns and potentially gold.
Jon Leader, state archaeologist and research associate professor at the University of South Carolina, said that since Spence’s discovery was made in federal waters, away from state jurisdiction, the state has no official record of the SS Ozama.
Spence “has found something and is alleging it’s the Ozama,” Leader said, “but we have no official report.”
While he expressed doubt that Spence has discovered the Ozama, Leader admits it is possible.
This isn’t the first shipwreck Spence has been involved with. He has long claimed that he found the Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley — a claim disputed by geologists, archaeologists, the state and the U.S. Naval Historical Center.
Spence said he originally discovered the wreckage of the Ozama in 1979 while searching for something else. In January, he said, he came across a newspaper from 1894 that gave an account of the wreck’s location.
“It matched perfectly with the wreck I had already found,” Spence said.
Spence’s research of the wreckage found that the ship was an iron-hulled, propeller steamer. It was only upon researching the ship’s measurements and construction details that Spence started to suspect that he had found the Ozama.
“The wreck has the right size and type of steam engine. Even the type of decking matches the historical record. This is positively the Ozama,” Spence said.
A Wikipedia page for the ship was recently created based on the information Spence found in his research of the ship, he said.
According to reports in the Nov. 23, 1894, edition of The News and Courier, the Ozama’s captain, F.F. Pennington, said the ship, bound from Philadelphia to Charleston, hit a shoal on Nov. 21. It left a large hole in the engine room compartment. Hours later, the Ozama sank and the captain and 12 men were rescued and taken to Romain Beach.
Spence’s work with the shipwreck is being funded by United Gold Explorations Ltd., a company created in agreement with Spence Trust Inc. Lee Spence is president of Spence Trust.
Any potential gold on the ship or at the wreckage site would be Spence’s property, according to maritime law. “I absolutely believe she had some on board when she sank,” he said.
Spence said that after he and his team are finished excavating the site, the shipwreck will be donated to the Sea Research Society, an organization Spence founded, to be used as a training ground for underwater archaeology and salvage.