A FISHMONGER will be swapping filleting fish for swimming with them after winning the right to dive for treasure on a historic wreck in the Thames.

Steve Ellis, 46, who runs Mattacks, in Leigh, was granted a year-long licence to explore HMS London after a chance meeting on a flight to the Maldives.

Mr Ellis, of Park Drive, Westcliff, bumped into an English Heritage expert who was searching for someone who could keep an eye on the ship, which sank after an accidental explosion in 1665.

Now Mr Ellis, his wife Carol, 44, and four friends have been placed in charge of diving to the wreck regularly and helping to bring its relics to the surface.

He said: “It was completely by chance, but there’s not many people who dive in the Thames, so I think English Heritage thought it was a bit of good luck as well.

“We’ve been told to watch over the wreck and let them know if there’s any changes to it.

“They’ve also asked us to let them know about anything we find, because they might want to bring it up and put it in local museums.

“We dived for the first time last week and we already think we’ve found a cannon.”

HMS London was discovered in 2008 during a salvage operation by professional archaeology company Wessex Archaeology and the Port of London Authority.

It was considered of such importance that the Thames shipping lane was re-routed to avoid disturbing its resting place, off the Southend coast.

The wreck is maintained by English Heritage and has previously been explored by professional divers, but the Government-funded body wanted to appoint local guardians to visit the ship regularly and report back on its condition.

Mr Ellis has been diving for 12 years around the world, including visits to the Galapagos Islands and the Maldives, but said the Thames is where his heart lies.

He added: “It’s my favourite place to dive. Most people don’t bother because the visibility is only about six inches on most days, but that’s what makes it exciting to me. You can come across anything. We know there are human remains on the ship, as well as the artefacts, so it should be really interesting to explore.”