A shipwreck that is thought to contain more than a billion dollars of gold has been discovered at the bottom of the English Channel, marine explorers confirmed today.
HMS Victory, the legendary British warship that was the predecessor to Lord Nelson's Victory, sank during a storm in 1744, taking more than 1,000 sailors to their deaths.
The ship's location remained a mystery despite numerous searches, until Odyssey Marine Exploration discovered the wreck in May 2008.
The Florida-based firm found the site 330ft under the English Channel, nearly 100km from where the ship was historically believed to have been wrecked, near the Channel Islands.
Jason Williams, executive producer of JMW Productions, which filmed the discovery, said: "Reports from the time say that the ship was carrying four tonnes of gold, around £400,000 sterling, which it picked up from Lisbon on its way to Gibraltar. Today this has a bullion value of £125 million, but that is just its raw weight. That means it is worth about a billion dollars."
The Ministry of Defence has given the company permission to go back down to the wreck to try to find the treasure.
The British Government will legally own any gold that is recovered, but Greg Stemm, chief executive officer of Odyssey Marine Exploration, said he was in negotiations and would expect to be rewarded for the find.
Mr Stemm said: "The money is not as important as the cultural and historical significance of the discovery. It is a monumental event, not only for Odyssey but for the world.
"It is probably the most significant shipwreck find to date. HMS Victory was the mightiest vessel of the 18th century and the eclectic mix of guns we found on the site will prove essential in further refining our understanding of naval weaponry used during the era."