British explorer James Cook’s ship Endeavour has been identified after languishing in US waters for more than two centuries. Cook famously sailed the ship around the South Pacific before landing on the east coast of Australia in 1770.

CEO of the Australian National Maritime Museum Kevin Sumption announced on Thursday the shipwreck of Cook’s vessel had been positively identified. Since 1999 maritime archaeologists have been investigating several 18th century shipwrecks in a two square mile area of Newport Harbor, Rhode Island. The Endeavour was scuttled there by the British 244 years ago and lay forgotten for more than two centuries.

Several details on the wreck convinced archaeologists they had found the Endeavour after matching structural details and the shape of the remains to those on 18th century plans of the ship. “I am satisfied that this is the final resting place of one of the most important and contentious vessels in Australia’s maritime history,” Mr Sumption said at the Maritime Museum in Sydney.

“The last pieces of the puzzle had to be confirmed before I felt able to make this call. “Based on archival and archaeological evidence, I’m convinced it’s the Endeavour. “It’s an important historical moment, as this vessel’s role in exploration, astronomy and science applies not just to Australia, but also Aotearoa New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.”

Only around 15 per cent of the vessel remains and researchers are now focused on what can be done to protect and preserve it. The museum is working closely with maritime experts in Rhode Island as well as the Australian, Rhode Island and US governments to secure the site.

Originally launched in 1764 as the Earl of Pembroke, the ship was renamed Endeavour in 1768 by Britain’s Royal Navy and prepared for a major scientific voyage to the Pacific. From 1768 to 1771 Endeavour sailed the South Pacific, primarily to record the transit of Venus in Tahiti in 1769.

Cook then sailed it around the South Pacific searching for “the Great Southern Land”, charting the coast of New Zealand and Australia’s eastern coastline before claiming the land for Great Britain on August 22, 1770. Endeavour was later sold to private owners, renamed as Lord Sandwich and was deliberately sunk in 1778 by British forces during the American War of Independence.

A year later Cook was killed in Hawaii during his third Pacific voyage, almost a decade before the First Fleet arrived in NSW to establish a British colony.