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(RALEIGH, N.C.) — Maritime archaeologists and researchers in North Carolina recently discovered one of the most significant shipwrecks found off the East Coast in recent years.

During a routine sonar assessment of known wrecks off the seaside town of Oak Island in North Carolina on Feb. 27, researchers and archaeologists stumbled upon the well-preserved wreckage of a blockade runner steamer from the Civil War, according to Billy Ray Morris, North Carolina’s deputy state archaeologist-underwater and director of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources’ Underwater Archaeology branch.

“This finding is incredibly exciting because it’s so intact,” Morris told ABC News. “The sonar image shows almost the entire vessel. That’s very rare.”

The iron-hulled vessel, about 225-feet long, is likely over 150 years old and is the first mid-19th century wreck to be found in the area in decades, Morris said.

He explained that the vessel was a blockade runner for the Confederacy during the Civil War. Blockade runners were “speedy steamers” used to get around Union war fleets, which sought to cut off the Confederacy from overseas trade.

“These were some of the most sophisticated ships of their day, comparable to the high-speed cigarette boats that modern-day drug smugglers might use now,” Morris said.

He added that the runners often contained war materials for the Confederate army and luxury items — including “cases of wine, Paris fashion and nice books” — which sold for a lot of money at the southern docks.

Three blockade runners are known to have been lost in the area: the Agnes E. Fry, Spunkie and Georgianna McCaw, Morris said.

Based on the ship’s size and several parts missing from the vessel, Morris believes the wreck is likely the Agnes E. Fry, he said.

“The Fry has the best story, too,” he added. “The owner, Thomas Fry, had the ship renamed for the wife. Thomas was also an interesting character. He was later killed while running a blockade in Cuba, where he was helping to supply guns to Cuban rebels.”

Morris said he and his team will try diving down to see the shipwreck Wednesday to do further research and confirm the ship’s identity.

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