In this Nov. 15, 1999, file photo, people watch as a replica of the HMB Endeavour leaves Honolulu, as it embarked on a four-year, around-the-world cruise. The original vessel was commanded by Capt. James Cook in the 1700s when he became the first European to chart Australia's East Coast. Image Credit: AP

Providence, Rhode Island: Researchers are exploring whether a shipwreck off the coast of Rhode Island could be the vessel that 18th-century explorer Capt. James Cook used to sail around the world.

The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project, which is leading the search effort, and the Australian National Maritime Museum identified the vessel. It’s one of 13 shipwrecks that have been known for years to be in the harbour near Newport, Rhode Island.

Archaeologists met on Friday in Newport to talk about their recent fieldwork.

“Early indications are that the team has narrowed the possible site for the wreck of HMB Endeavour to one site, which is very promising,” said Kevin Sumption, director and CEO of the Australian National Maritime Museum.

The Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project described the site as promising, but said it’ll still take a lot more work and money to identify it.

Nearly 250 years ago, Cook ran aground on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef during a voyage to the South Pacific. His ship was the Endeavour, an awkward little vessel that improbably helped him become the first European to chart Australia’s east coast. He used the Endeavour to claim Australia for the British during his historic 1768-1771 voyage.

Vice Adm. Michael Noonan, chief of the Royal Australian Navy, said he dove at the Rhode Island site with researchers.

He measured one of the cannons so the dimensions can be compared to historical records, and they took samples of the wood. He’s hopeful the wreck is the Endeavour.

“Certainly it’s a very exciting discovery in absolute terms,” he said on Friday. “They’re very, very confident that the Endeavour is in the site.”

The Endeavour was also part of the fleet of 13 ships the British scuttled during the Revolutionary War in 1778 to blockade Newport Harbour from the French. It was listed in the records under a different name, the Lord Sandwich.

The non-profit Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project located documents in London identifying the groups of ships in that fleet and where each was scuttled. It has been studying the wrecks in Newport Harbour since 1993, and has been ruling out ones that could not be Cook’s ship. It announced this week that it had narrowed the search for Endeavour to one, or possibly two, archaeological sites.

Celebrating Cook

“We’ve been at this 25 years and this is the first time we’ve been really willing to say we think we’re closing in on having the Endeavour,” project director Kathy Abbass said at a news conference on Friday. “This is science. It’s not a documentary. It’s not something that will be over in 50 minutes. And we’ve got a lot more work to do.”

They’re hoping to excavate the most likely site in time for the 250th anniversary celebrations of Cook claiming of Australia, which is in 2020.

“We will be celebrating the arrival of Cook and Australia in 2020. Finding the wreck of the Endeavour at this point in time and being able to authenticate that is an extraordinary achievement, said Peter Dexter of the Australian National Maritime Museum. “That’d be fabulous.”