Shipwrecks

Shipwrecks from Blane Peruns TheSea.Org
Credit: NOAA


ships were built and especially the items found on them can tell a lot about the period in which they operated and establish the cause of the wrecking. The items that they carried during their voyages can also tell what they were built for, as well as their trade routes. Many of these underwater shipwrecks are considered cultural heritage sites by UNESCO.

In most cases, after a century or so, very little remains of a sunken ship. Most objects that are salvaged are heavier elements such as metal. The ship’s anchor, chains, coins and in some cases, canons as well are some of the objects that can usually be salvaged and displayed in a museum. The ship’s origin, manufacturer, how it was built and the materials used to build it may be identified. The ocean is unforgiving and, like wooden ships, later ones made of metal will also disintegrate over time; however, the process may take a bit longer.

No one is quite sure about the number of shipwrecks that can be found on the ocean floor. In 1999, Angela Chrome, a science writer for the Daily Telegraph that specialized in underwater archaeology in her later years, estimated that approximately 3 million shipwrecks are lying on the ocean floor. However, a large percentage of these wrecks remain undiscovered.

Improper design, human error, and natural disasters are some of the main causes of shipwrecking. Avoiding these disasters is another reason why studies need to be made so that proper precautions can be put in place to prevent them from happening again.

Antikythera

Antikythera Shipwreck From Blane Peruns TheSea.Org
Credit: Brett Seymour EUA/ARGO

Considered by some to be the most famous and mysterious wreck of the Ancient world, the Antikythera shipwreck was initially discovered by sponge divers off the coast of the Island of Antikythera, in Greece, in 1900. Salvage operations have since hauled many impressive statues, works of art, ancient coins, gold jewelry, tools and unique items to the surface, including the strange Antikythera mechanism.

Even though it was initially discovered in 1900, more than a century of research done on some of the recovered items and artifacts, including the famed Antikythera mechanism, did not lead to accurate dating. The first two years after the Antikythera wreck was found yielded many impressive findings, such as bronze statues and the amphorae recovered from the wreck. These indicated a time frame between 50 and 80 BC. However, the site was abandoned for more than 70 years before explorer Jacques Cousteau recovered 300 additional artifacts. More recent research and carbon dating suggested the hull of the ship may have been crafted earlier than 220 BC.

Captain Dimitrios Kondos set out with a crew of sponge divers around Easter of 1900. They had stopped at the island of Antikythera to wait for favorable winds, and decided to explore the waters around the island. One of the divers, Elias Stadiatis, went down to about 45 meters below the surface, and found what would later be identified as the Antikythera shipwreck. Although initial salvage operations were successfully conducted by the sponge divers, coordinated by the Greek Education Ministry, the wreck was left untouched after 1901, due to the death of diver Giorgos Kritikos as a result of decompression sickness. Jacques Cousteau was the first to attempt new salvage missions in 1953, but it was only in 1976 that he managed to recover new artifacts at the invitation of the Greek Government and assisted by archaeologist Dr. Lazaros Colonas.

Bronze statues such as The Philosopher and the Youth of Antikythera were impressive enough for the archaeologists of the early 20th century. However, there was one find that eluded even the brightest scientific minds of the time: the Antikythera mechanism. This artifact showed an unprecedented level of complexity that surpassed what modern science knew about the skill of Ancient Greek engineers. The clockwork device is believed to have been designed as an ancient analogue computer meant to calculate the position of the stars and planets based on the physics of the day. It was discovered in 1901 aboard the Antikythera shipwreck, and although it is believed to have been designed between 150 and 100 BC, the exact date of its construction remains unknown.

Belitung

Belitung Shipwreck From Blane Peruns TheSea.Org
Credit: Natali Pearson

The Belitung shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Indonesia, about 1.6 km off the coast of Belitung Island. The find was that of an Arabian dhow returning from China to Africa on a long journey that was lengthened by the choice of a secondary trade route that was not often chosen by most trading vessels during the period. The ship sank in 830 AD, and its cargo was discovered by fishermen in 1998. It was the first ancient Arabian ship to have been excavated and found to retain much of its structural integrity despite being buried beneath the sea for more than a millennia.

The discovery of the Belitung wreck was of great historical significance in the late 20th century, revealing much about the construction techniques of the Arabian culture of the time. The ship was built around a 50-foot long keel of about 15 cm in thickness – known to have survived intact. Several types of wood were successfully identified to reveal more about the construction of the boat and its relation to similar wrecks discovered in the Red Sea off the coast of Africa. The hull of the shipwreck also revealed an important treasure that dated back to the Tang dynasty of China, and led to the ship being unofficially named the “Tang treasure ship.”

The Belitung shipwreck became primarily famous due to the important cargo it was carrying. The archaeological dig in commenced during the expeditions of 1998 and 1999 revealed the hull of the shipwreck still holding lumps of concretion filled with historically valuable artifacts carried from China. The treasure mainly consisted of finely crafted bronze mirrors, ewers and various ceramics, as well as lead ingots and various gold and silver items. An impressive number of about 60,000 artifacts were uncovered, many of which were displayed for the first time at the ArtScience Museum in Singapore, in 2011.

The wreck is of an extremely important historical significance, since it carries vital information about the trade between two major empires of the period, Abbasid Iraq and Tang China. The dhow reveals startling new discoveries about the maritime Silk Route to China, allowing Archaeologists to answer many questions about the Chinese trade routes of the time, but also uncovering new mysteries. It is still uncertain why the ship took a return route that was more regularly frequented by vessels traveling from the Java Sea. Also, the artwork on some of the artifacts showed a surprising variety of motifs from many different cultures. The Belitung shipwreck cargo has been cataloged in its entirety, but still poses many mysteries associated with the 9th century maritime trade routes from China.

Bom Jesus

Bom Jesus Shipwreck From Blane Peruns TheSea.Org
Credit: National Geographic

The Bon Jesus shipwreck is one of the most impressive testaments of the European Golden Age of Discovery. Disappearing almost 500 years ago, the Portuguese ship was en route to India at the time it seemed to vanish without a trace. Carrying what would now be worth millions in gold coins and various other items, the ship was considered a great loss at the time, having carried a total of 300 sailors, merchants, priests, slaves and noblemen. The shipwreck was recently discovered in the waters of Namibia, and allowed archaeologists to shed new light on the fate of the people aboard the vessel, as well as their way of life.

The Bom Jesus was a Portuguese ship that set sail from Lisbon in 1533, and was captained by Sir Francisco de Noronha. The ship never made it back from its journey to India, and it was assumed that it sunk in the Indian Ocean, being one of the many vessels fallen victim to the Age of Discovery, when explorers commonly ventured to uncharted lands. The Bom Jesus shipwreck is among the most valuable wrecks discovered in recent years. Its disappearance still leaves researchers with many mysteries, especially because of the lack of consistent human remains. Archaeologists now believe that the crew and passengers may have made it to dry land, but the harsh conditions and the natives could have prevented them from surviving or making it back to civilization.

The wreck was discovered by geologists from the De Beers mining community in 2008. The 300-year old shipwreck was loaded with more than £9 million worth of gold coins and other items that belonged to the crew. Initially, the Bom Jesus shipwreck did not reveal its treasure directly. The miners first discovered pieces of wood and metal along the beach, then they found the entire ship buried beneath the sand. Although archaeologists found weapons and tools, very few human remains and personal belongings were left, suggesting that the crew and passengers made it safely to shore.

The first treasure chest found aboard the vessel was discovered only after 6 days of probing the shipwreck. The full treasure consisted of items of value belonging to many different cultures, including African ivory, German copper ingots and gold coins of Venetian, Spanish and Florentine origin. Since the Bom Jesus shipwreck was not a ship of state, standard procedure allowed the Namibian Government to keep the gold, while the location was placed under UNESCO Protection, being deemed an Underwater Cultural Heritage site.

Nuestra Senora de Atocha

Nuestra Senora De Atocha Shipwreck From Blane Peruns TheSea.Org
Credit: Mel Fisher

The Nuestra Senora de Atocha shipwreck – “Our Lady of Atocha” as it is known in English – is the famous wreck of a vessel that sank in 1622 off the coast of Florida (near the Florida Keys). The ship carried a heavy cargo of copper, silver, gold, various jewels, gems, tobacco and a number of priceless artifacts, many of which still elude divers. The treasure is characteristic of the most well-known sheep belonging to a fleet of Spanish vessels that sank around the same time near or around the Florida Keys area.

The Atocha frequented the Spanish ports of Porto Bello and Cartagena. These were likely the locations where most of the cargo that found its way to the bottom of the sea in 1622 came from. The ship was ordered by King Philip IV in 1620, and took one year to build. It was finally seaworthy by 1621, and spent another year at sea traveling between Spain and the Caribbean before the time it sank. The Atocha was part of a fleet that was completely swept away by a hurricane, with surviving ships bringing news of the disaster back to Havanna, where authorities sent an additional five ships to try and salvage the vessels. However, the Atocha, along with all other ships, remained extremely difficult to recover and the loss of the fleet was recorded by history as a major blow for the Spanish at the time.

The shipwreck and its treasure is situated off the Florida Keys where it stayed for nearly 400 years before its discovery. The ship sunk along with other Spanish vessels in a violent hurricane that struck unexpectedly and ripped away at the mast and hulls of most of the ships, leaving them dead in the water. The disaster occurred only two days after the ships left port in Havana, and everyone aboard the Atocha except for three sailors and two slaves were killed. Much of the treasure was scattered into the sea when the hull ruptured, so that salvaging it all is nearly impossible even with the best recovery teams.

The Nuestra Senora de Atocha shipwreck was searched for relentlessly by treasure hunter Mel Fisher, together with a team of sub-contractors. It was found in July 1985. Fisher had previously discovered the wrecked cargo ship Santa Margarita 5 years earlier, and, although he managed to recover numerous gold coins and jewels from the wreckage, the State of Florida claimed the find and led Fisher to a litigation that lasted eight years. The Supreme Court finally ruled in Fisher’s favor in 1992, six years before the discoverer of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha shipwreck died.

Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes

Nuestra Senora De Las Mercedes Shipwreck From Blane Peruns TheSea.Org
Credit: Scott Gries

The Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes shipwreck is one of the few real treasure ships that held hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of silver at the time of its discovery. The ship sank off the coast of Portugal in 1804 and remained hidden from sight for more than 200 years before Odyssey Marine Exploration discovered and retrieved much of the treasure stored on the vessel. The Spanish frigate seemed to have been a center of controversy throughout history, being the center element for an attack by the British in times of peace and still causing the Spanish Government much difficulty even after it was recovered.

Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes was a frigate ship that was discovered in an area fraught with colonial-era shipwrecks. The Spanish frigate had been launched almost 30 years earlier, in 1786 in Cuba. Its crew consisted of more than 300 men, and the frigate was armed with 36 cannons. Sailing from Montevideo to its destination in Cadiz, it was carrying silver, gold, cinnamon, vicuna and quinoa along with several other ships. Due to the unique construction of the ship, the shipwreck remains well-known not just for its treasure, but also for shedding more light on the construction practices and culture of the time.

The vessel was part of a small flotilla together with the Medea, Santa Clara and Fama. The ships were intercepted and attacked by the British during a time of peace between the two nations, and the Mercedes was immediately sunk as the very first shot hit the ship’s magazine. Records show that the British had ordered the ships to proceed to a British port for inspections, but the Spanish, instead of complying, attempted an attack despite being outgunned. More than 250 people lost their lives that day, 51 crew members being rescued from the sea. The other ships in the flotilla were interned in Britain.

Odyssey Marine Exploration was tasked to find the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes shipwreck. The company managed to locate the wreck in 2007 as part of what they called the Project Black Swan. Odyssey was at first unaware of the precise nature of the treasure and artifacts it had discovered, and only made the findings public later on. By 2012, 600,000 silver coins weighing more than 17 tons were carried to Spain, and a legal battle also ensued that had Odyssey pay $1 million to the Spanish despite historical records indicating that more than 72% of the coins transported and found on the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes shipwreck came from Spanish merchants and not the Spanish Government.

RMS Titanic 1912

One of the most famous shipwrecks is the RMS Titanic, the ship which the movie with the same name is based on. During her maiden voyage across the Atlantic in 1912, Titanic struck an iceberg causing the ship to sink. The reason why it was a great tragedy is that the ship was ill-prepared for a disaster, having enough lifeboats to accommodate approximately 40% of the passengers on board if the ship were at full capacity.

Following the tragedy, many changes were made regarding safety and recommendations were made by the British and American Boards of Inquiry. They have stated that ships should carry enough lifeboats to accommodate every passenger on the ship. Also, emergency lifeboat drills would be carried out, as well as regular inspections of the boats. The shipwreck of the RMS Titanic remains at the bottom of the Atlantic at 3.8 km underwater. It was discovered by an expedition led by Jean-Louis Michel and Robert Ballard in 1985.

Salcombe

Salcombe Shipwreck From Blane Peruns TheSea.Org
Credit: Wessex Archaeology

The Salcombe shipwreck became one of the most famous wrecks in the world in 2009, when a significant number of Bronze Age objects were discovered off the coast of Devon. They were cataloged as belonging to a ship that sank nearly 3,000 years ago. Although this was not a new site and the existence of the ship was known for the past 30 years, it was only then that the trading vessel’s cargo was uncovered. This historic find stirred the archaeological community, allowing experts to learn more about the complexity of trading routes in the period.

The Salcombe is estimated to have carried a crew of 15 people, and was constructed from planks of timber. It measured 40 feet in length and 6 feet in width, and was propelled by paddles, as most Bronze Age ships. 27 tin ingots and 259 copper ingots were discovered aboard the Salcombe shipwreck thus far. The metals were thought to have been shipped for the purpose of manufacturing bronze, the main material that most cultures of the time used in order to create jewelry, weapons and various ornaments. The wreck lies 10 meters deep in an area known as Wash Gully, and is believed to have sunk while attempting to land.

According to archaeologists the wreck is believed to be an extremely important find due to the new information it offers about trade during the Bronze Age. It had sunk around 900 BC, and it is considered as the equivalent of a modern day bulk carrier. Although other objects from the ship were found in years past, the Salcombe wreck was only identified in 2009 at the International Shipwreck Conference in Plymouth, England. The find shows the complexity and diversity of trade in that era, carrying objects that originated from a number of ancient European cultures.

The shipwreck was discovered off the coast of Salcombe in South Devon, Britain. The ship became popular as early as 1977, when only eight objects were discovered and taken to shore. As diving practices and undersea archaeology continued to advance additional objects were discovered at the site in 2004 and 2008. The largest haul was produced in 2009, when more than 200 additional objects were discovered, shedding new light on the trade, culture and technology of the time. According to experts, the 3,000-year old Salcombe shipwreck still has plenty of secrets to reveal, and archaeologists expect additional finds at the site in years to come.

S.S. Central America

S.S. Central America Shipwreck From Blane Peruns TheSea.Org
Credit: Seattle Times

One of the most historically significant as well as the largest shipwrecks in history was the S.S. Central America Shipwreck. Nicknamed “The Ship of Gold,” it was a steamer carrying a number of more than 500 people – including passengers and crew – as well as a cargo of more than 30,000 pounds of gold. The ship is known to have sunk off the coast of the United States in 1857 during a severe hurricane. More than 400 people died during the sinking of the S.S. Central America, leaving fewer than 100 survivors.

The S.S. Central America shipwreck was to remain lost at sea for almost 150 years after its sinking, and its disappearance remains to this day one of the most well-documented in history. The ship was caught in a category 2 hurricane with winds stronger than 100 mph. As she was taking on water, the boiler threatened to give out, and all attempts of signaling passing ships failed. During the time that the ship passed through the eye of the storm, attempts were made to repair the boiler, but they all failed. 150 passengers – mainly women and children – managed to make their way to the lifeboats before the ship went down. Survivors were rescued by the Norwegian bark Ellen; however, a total of 425 people died.

Due to the immense value of the cargo, the S.S. Central America shipwreck became one of the most valuable ship lost at sea in history, and the loss of the gold it was transporting had dire consequences that added to the trouble caused by the Panic of 1857. Although the ship itself was valued at about $140,000 at the time, the gold was worth $2,000,000 – almost an estimated $51 million in today’s money. The Panic of 1857 was an economic crisis that spread throughout the globe, and was greatly worsened by the sinking of the S.S. Central America, whose cargo of gold was anticipated in New York in order to help with the recovery of American banks.

The ship had to await another 141 years before a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) and the Bayesian search theory allowed researchers to pinpoint its location. The ship was quickly identified as its wreck site was discovered in 1988, and much of the gold was recovered in its entirety. A legal battle ensued, as more than 30 insurance companies claimed the gold due to having paid insurance claims for its loss in 1857. However, most of the gold was awarded to the discovery team itself. Due to legal issues, only about 5% of the S.S. Central America shipwreck was recovered, and the Odyssey Marine Exploration was appointed to continue the salvage in 2014.

S.S. Gairsoppa

S.S. Gairsoppa Shipwreck From Blane Peruns TheSea.Org
Credit: Odyssey Marine Inc

Built in 1919 and initially used as a merchant steamer, the S.S. Gairsoppa later found service in the hands of Great Britain during World War II and was sank off the coast of Ireland in 1941; it took more than 60 years until the rediscovery of the S.S. Gairsoppa shipwreck. The ship had a lengthy career, being mainly appointed as a merchant vessel tasked to carry supplies between the United Kingdom and India. She was spotted by a German U-boat and torpedoed on the starboard side. The ship sank no more than 20 minutes later, and claimed the lives of 85 people.

The S.S. Gairsoppa shipwreck is fascinating enough as it lays more than 4,000 meters below sea level, however, its career was equally significant from a historical standpoint. It was about 400 feet in length, having been built in Jarrow, England, and named after the town of Gairsoppa. Before its military service it regularly acted as a transport vessel to India, with its main port stationed in Glasgow. During the War, the ship was initially part of several convoys before being assigned to Convoy SL 64 in 1941. Forced to make its way to Galway Ireland, it was eventually spotted and sunk by a German vessel in neutral waters.

At the time of its sinking, the S.S. Garisoppa held an estimated £150 million worth of silver bullion. The S.S. Garisoppa shipwreck was discovered in 2011 by American archaeological organization Odyssey Marine Exploration, after a failed attempt by Deepwater Recovery and Exploration Ltd. in 1989. The recovery effort continued throughout the year 2012, yielding about 1,200 ingots of silver, and further efforts in 2013 revealed that a total of 60 tons of silver bullion had been recovered, estimated at a worth of more than £137 million.

The S.S. Garisoppa’s sinking during the war, as well as its service as part of the war effort places it as a key historical remnant of the time. The act of sinking the ship was not an isolated case, and spoke volumes of Hitler’s strategy to cut off Britain’s maritime supply lines as part of his efforts to take over Europe in its entirety. This is just one of the ships that fell victim to that strategy. The S.S. Garisoppa shipwreck remains to this day a testament to Britain’s efforts during the 2nd World War and continues to be a crucial archaeological and symbolic find for the United Kingdom.

S.S. Republic

S.S. Republic Shipwreck From Blane Peruns TheSea.Org
Credit: National Geographic

Much is known about the S.S. Republic shipwreck when it comes to its history and the many historical battles it was a part of before its sinking. The ship was used both in the War of 1812 and the Civil War, and was also used as a merchant vessel during times of peace. As the Tennessee, it was the first Baltimore ship to cross the Atlantic, traversing the ocean to visit La Havre, France and Southampton, England. The ship stalled in heavy seas and sank during a storm in the year 1865. It would take nearly 150 years before it would be rediscovered 100 miles southeast of Savannah, Georgia.

The S.S. Republic shipwreck consists of the remains of a steamer which sank en route to New Orleans in 1865 during a hurricane. One of the most notable ships of the time, the S.S. Republic had been built especially for the War of 1812, and began her service as a merchant vessel, subsequently being turned into a Confederate blockade runner during the Civil War, and renamed the CSS Tennessee. The ship was also used as a Union vessel after the Union seized New Orleans. Before it sank, the ship was sold at auction and re-baptized as the S.S. Republic in March 1865, returning to its previous route making trips between New York and New Orleans.

The ship sank on October 25th 1865, on the seventh day of her voyage to New Orleans, while carrying $400,000 in gold coins. Hit by a hurricane, the ship’s hull was badly damaged, and the crew barely managed to hold out as they were trying to bail her. The boiler stalled, and the ship sank after two days of struggle. The Odyssey Marine Exploration, a commercial archaeological organization based in Tampa, Florida, discovered shipwreck in 2003. The ship was found about 500 meters below sea level, and a salvage effort managed to recover more than 1/3 of the rare 19th century gold that the ship had been carrying at the time. The gold is now estimated at a value of over $75 million.

The vessel held an extensive assortment of artifacts from the period, 14,000 of which were recovered during the salvage operation. Ceramic goods, bottles, silverware, elegant glassware and various religious items were recovered along with the gold. Items as diverse as 175 types of stoneware, hand-blown glass oil lamps, crucifix candlesticks and neo-rococo style porcelain figurines were found as part of the treasure. The S.S. Republic shipwreck thus offered researchers and archaeologists a unique glimpse at the past through authentic items that remained preserved for well over a century.

SS USAT Liberty 1918

Found on many lists about the top diving spots in the world is the USAT Liberty in Bali, Indonesia. The ship was a cargo vessel that managed to serve in both World Wars, as well as during peacetime until it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine 1942. What remained of the wreckage was stripped by the US military and later by the locals. The ship originally ended up on a beach until a volcanic eruption in the area moved the ship into the water, where it remains a popular destination for scuba divers.

Whydah Gally

Whydah Gally Shipwreck From Blane Peruns TheSea.Org
Credit: Center for Historical Shipwreck Preservation

Commonly known as the Whydah, the Whydah Gally shipwreck was found in 1984 by Barry Clifford, who relied on Southack’s early 1717 map to pinpoint its location. The Whydah Gally was a fully rigged galley ship that was captured by “Black Sam” Bellamy, and played a major role as his main flagship during the Golden Age of Piracy. It was originally built as a passenger ship that was soon refitted to carry slaves from the African continent. The ship was commanded by former buccaneer Captain Lawrence Prince before it was attacked by the pirate “Black Sam” Bellamy and began its short-lived but significant career as a pirate vessel.

The Whydah Gally is something of a legend among enthusiasts and experts studying the Golden Age of piracy. Initially commissioned in 1715 by Sir Humphrey Morice – one of the most significant British slave traders of the day – the ship measured 110 feet in length and was capable of speeds of up to 13 knots, or 24 km/h. The ship was named after the West African kingdom of Ouidah (pronounced Whydah) due to its affiliation with the African slave trade. It could normally carry more than 500 captives along with jewelry, ivory and other goods that were transported to trade them in the Caribbean.

The Whydah was taken over by Sam Bellamy in February 1717, only two months before it sank because of a violent storm. There is a good reason why the Whydah Gally shipwreck still had canons that were in excellent condition at the time it was rediscovered. Bellamy initially transferred 150 members of his crew to man the flagship, then traveled to North Carolina and looted several other ships, while fitting the Whydah with 30 additional cannons. According to legend, Bellamy was headed for Cape Cove to visit his beloved Maria Hallett when his route took the Whydah straight into a dense fog that signaled bad weather ahead.

The Whydah Gally sank in April 1717 because of a violent storm that hit the ship during the night. Hit by winds exceeding 70 mph, it reached an area only 30 feet deep where the ship capsized, and the more than 60 cannons on board ripped the deck apart. The “Prince of Pirates,” Bellamy, went down with his ship along with 102 other crewmen. Explorer Barry Clifford followed a real life pirate treasure map to locate the Whydah. His discovery revealed the ship was only covered by 4-5 meters of water. Aside from pirates’ weapons, gear, clothing, cannons and a number of unique artifacts found aboard the Whydah Gally shipwreck, there was also the ship’s bell, which identified the vessel with the inscribed words “THE WHIDAH GALLY 1716.”

SS Yongala 1903

The wreck of the SS Yongala is a major tourist attraction in Australia, receiving more than 10,00 tourists each year. What makes it stand apart from the others is its abundance of marine life and the fact that even to this day, much of the ship remains intact and it is one of the largest shipwrecks that can be visited by tourists. After it was hit by a cyclone in 1911, the SS Yongala sunk and it remained undiscovered for half a century. The wreck is located about 80 kilometers to the south-east of Townsville.

Whale in Ocean