KURE BEACH, NC (WECT) - Marine researchers believe they have found the wreckage of a Civil War-era steamer near Fort Caswell at the mouth of the Cape Fear River.
On Tuesday morning, a dive team went down to check out the wreckage in Oak Island.
""Visibility was absolute 0," said Billy Ray Morris, deputy state archaeologist, "We were able to run 1 dive on it. We confirmed the orientation of the vessel with her stern pointed towards the beach, the presence of one boiler, the complete absence of both engines, and the paddle wheel shaft…and the disarticulation of the hull…plus the preservation of the hull exceeds 6 ft."
Researchers and archaeologists from the Underwater Archaeology Branch of the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology and the Institute of International Maritime Research believe the vessel is possibly the remains of one of three blockade runners used to penetrate Union vessels blocking Wilmington's port during the Civil War.
"Nobody's found a new Civil War wreck in decades," said Morris. "With a high-energy maritime environment like you have off the coast of North Carolina, ships are broken apart. This one is relatively intact. You can see that it looks like a ship."
The discovery was made on Feb. 27 during sonar operations. The wreck is located 27 miles downstream from Wilmington.
"A new runner is a really big deal," said Morris. "The state of preservation on this wreck is among the best we've ever had."
Three blockade runners are known to have been lost in the area - the Agnes E. Fry, Spunkie and Georgianna McCaw.
Researchers aboard the research vessel Atlantic Surveyor recorded the complete hull of the vessel. Students from East Carolina University's Maritime Studies Program will join them as they continue gathering data as weather permits.
"By the time I've crawled across it with a team of archaeologists and a couple of graduate students ... I'm confident I'll know which wreck it is," Morris said. He said he hopes to tackle the project on Wednesday.
He added that he is not 100 percent certain that the shipwreck is one of the blockade runners.
These operations are part of a major project funded by the National Park Service through the American Battlefield Protection Program.
The Underwater Archaeology Branch within the Office of State Archaeology is part of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.