By: Tejeshwar Singh Rana, 2nd Officer, Shell shipping-London, UK & Associate Editor-ICN
Shipwrecking is not a good thing to happen always. Indeed, several maritime accidents in the past have shown us how bad they are, and the uncountable loss they make.
However, for the generations to come, shipwrecks act as a window to their own long history. The histories of conflict, survival, and of course, the history of destinies. Shipwrecks are important discoveries that tell us stories of the past, helping us connects the dots in our own history. Those are the testimonies to the trade and cultural exchanges our predecessors.
Over countless centuries, there have been many ships that have fallen prey to accidents – natural as well as caused by human interference. Many enthusiastic travellers, brave warriors and merchants have found their final resting place on the bottom of oceans, rivers and lakes across the world. Resting undisturbed in the darkness of our waters, these shipwrecks not only excites the history buffs, but any common person.
A rough estimate of United Nations shows at least 3 million shipwrecks are lying across ocean floors around the planet. In addition to being important sites of cultural interest, these historical monuments contribute significantly to a healthy marine ecosystem, and also support the growing recreational dive tourism industry.
In this article we take you through the pages of history to find some of the precious maritime treasures that have been lying at the ocean’s floor.
- The fleet of Kublai Khan
Kublai Khan’s lost fleet is one of the most famous shipwrecks of old times. Two Mongolian invasion fleet attempting to attack Japan was wrecked in storms 1274 and 1281, killing tens of thousands of troops.Several artefacts belonging to these vessels were found centuries later from the seabed of the Imari Gulf. In October 2001, an entire shipwreck claimed to originate from Fujian in south China, was discovered by the archaeologists. Recently in 2015, archaeologists located a Mongolian ship in a bay close to the city of Matsuura, near the island of Kyushu.
- The Spanish Armada
The Spanish Armada, a fleet of 130 ships on a mission to invade England in 1588 was disrupted by storms and a large number of the Armada’s ships were wrecked on the coasts of Scotland and Ireland, killing around 5000 soldiers. Among the drowned were most of the soldiers and crewmembers of 32-gun warship La Juliana, built near Barcelona in 1570. In 1985, local divers discovered the wreckage of three vessels of the fleet, including La Lavia and the La Santa Maria de Vison and La Juliana. In 2015, several cannons from La Juliana were found in sands off Streedagh in Co Sligo.
- RMS Titanic
RMS Titanic, the most famous ship for never making her destination, was the largest cruise ship of its time. The Titanic was built in Ireland at the Harland and Wolff shipyard. It was considered to be the most developed ship of that era.However, the Titanic, which was famously described as ‘unsinkable,’ unfortunately sank after colliding against an iceberg in its maiden voyage- from Southampton to New York City- on 14 April 1912, in the North Atlantic Ocean. Around 1, 517 people lost their lives in one of the biggest marine tragedies in history.After many unsuccessful expeditions, the wreck was finally located by a joint French–American expedition in 1985. Quite a number of artefacts have been removed from the shipwreck and they are displayed in the National Maritime Museum, in England. Many schemes were proposed to raise the ship, but the fragile condition of the vessel prevented such plans. The wreck of RMS Titanic is now protected by the 2001UNESCO Convention.
- RMS Empress of Ireland
Canadian ocean liner RMS Empress of Ireland sank near the mouth of the Saint Lawrence River on 29 May 1914 after colliding with the Norwegian collier SS Storstad due to thick fog, killing 1012 people. The vessel was en route from Quebec City to Liverpool, with 1057 passengers and a crew of 420 abroad when the vessel went down in one of the worst disasters in Canadian maritime history. At present the wreck of Empress of Ireland lies in a shallow 130 ft of water. At several occasions after the incident, several divers have successfully recovered many valuables including silver bars, a brass bell and a stern telemeter etc from the ship.
- MS Estonia
The Estonia ship casualty in the Baltic Sea is one of the biggest maritime incidents to have occurred in the recent past. The cruise ferry MS Estonia, built in the German shipyard Meyer Werft, was en route to Stockholm from the Estonian province of Tallinn when it sank on 28 September 1994. Over 800 people lost their lives in this horrifying incident and the majority of the bodies were never recovered.
The cause of the accident remains controversial as there are many theories about the cause of the sinking. The most commonly known reason for the accident is said to be the rough weather conditions that the ship encountered. However, certain other sources disregarded this reason and stated that because of the ship’s military involvement, bombs were planted by rival countries to destroy the ship.After the accident, there were demands from the relatives of the deceased to raise the vessel in order to give a land burial. And, at the same time, there were discussions to raise the ship for a detailed inspection to know the cause of the accident. However, the Swedish government decided to bury the vessel and thousands of tons of pebbles were dropped on the site. As per the Estonia Agreement 1995, the burial site has been designated as a sea grave and prohibited the exploration of the wreckage.
- The Andrea Doria
The Italian ocean liner Andrea Doria sank after colliding against Swedish ship MS Stockholm on the night of July 1956, killing 46 people. The vessel, which had 1,134 passengers and 572 crewmembers onboard, was en route to New York City when it met with one of the most infamous maritime disasters in history. However, in spite of the severity of the incident, not many lives were lost thanks to the timely communication by the ship’s authorities and commendable rescue efforts.After the sinking of the vessel, divers Peter Gimbel and Joseph Fox were managed to locate the wreck of Andrea Doria. Today, resting in some 240 feet of the North Atlantic water, the wreck of Andrea Doria has become a popular site among scuba divers, being called as “Mount Everest of scuba diving.”
- HMS Victory
The 100-gun ship of the Royal Navy HMS Victory was launched in the sea in the year 1737 and met with an accident in the English Channel in the year 1744. The sinking of HMS Victory, in one of the worst British naval disaster in the English Channel, claimed the lives more than 1,000 sailors. The ship disappeared from sight at the Channel Islands and for over 250 years, there was no sight of any remains of the ship.The shipwreck was discovered in the year 2008 by the Odyssey Marine Expedition of the United States around 43 nautical miles from where it encountered the storm and disappeared from sight. As a military wreck, the remains of HMS Victory are now the property of the British Government under marine laws.
- MV Doña Paz
The Philippine-registered passenger ferry MV Doña Paz was en route from Leyte Island to Manila when it sank after colliding with the oil tanker MT Vector on 20 December 1987. One of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history, the collision claimed the lives of at least 4,386 people. Reports then revealed that the vessel was overcrowded, the vessel did not have a radio and passengers didn’t have immediate access to life jackets. The ship, now known as ‘Asia’s Titanic,’ was mostly destroyed in the collision due to the fire.
- The Carpathia
The British passenger liner RMS Carpathia is best known for rescuing survivors from Titanic when the cruise ship met with its accident. However Carpathia met with the same destiny when it was destroyed by a German submarine in the year 1917, at the time of World War I. The vessel was attacked by three torpedoes from a German U-boat when it was moving as part of a convoy travelling from Liverpool to Boston and five people were killed in the accident.The wreck of Carpathia was found in the year 1999, by a company known as Argosy International Ltd, in 600 ft of water, 298 km west of Land’s End, sitting upright on the ocean bed.
- The Mary Rose
The Mary Rose was a warship in the navy of the Tudor King Henry VIII and was destroyed while leading an action against a French ship in Solent, in the Isle of Wight on 19 July 1545. The ship sank in a strait of the English Channel, claiming the lives of hundreds of men.This shipwreck was salvaged in the year 1982 by the Mary Rose Trust and now the artefacts are displayed in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. The artefacts that were discovered in the Mary Rose were quite unique, offering immense knowledge about the equipment of naval warfare of that era.
- The Vasa
The Vasa was a Swedish war vessel that was built during the 17th century and it was a most high-tech warship when it set sail. However, the ship sank during its maiden voyage in the year 1628 in Stockholm Harbor.There were many unsuccessful attempts to raise the ship from the seabed in the years followed. Finally, the Vasa was recovered in 1961 and at present, the remains of the Vasa are stored at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm where it attracts more than a million visitors per year.
- The Rhone
The iron-hulled steamship RMS Rhone was a UK Royal Mail Ship or packet ship owned by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company. This ship was lost in a hurricane off the coast of Salt Island in the British Virgin Islands in the year 1867, killing 123 people.The topmast of the vessel remained above the waterline for a long period after accident and the Royal Navy blew up the stern of the ship only in 1950 due to the navigational hazard. At present, because of the way the shipwreck is positioned in the water, the Rhone is regarded to be the best diving destination in the Caribbean.
- The Sultana
In one of the worst and least recognised maritime disasters in the history of US, the explosion and sinking of steamboat Sultana on 27 April, 1865 took 1,800 lives in the Mississippi River, near Memphis. The ship was used at the end of the American Civil War to transport the POWs from the Union army back home and the vessel met with an accident after the explosion of its boilers. The wreck of the ship was found in the year 1982 in a soybean field on the Arkansas side, around 6 km from Memphis. Featuring few relics from the ship, a temporary Sultana Disaster Museum was opened in 2015, on the 150th anniversary of the tragedy.
- RMS Republic
The steam-powered ocean liner RMS Republic, built in 1903, lost at sea after colliding with the Lloyd Italiano liner SS Florida in 1909. The vessel was en route from New York City to Gibraltar and Mediterranean ports while it met with the accident that killed six people. There are a number rumours suggesting that that Republic was carrying valuables including gold when she went down off Nantucket, Massachusetts. The wreck of Republic, which was found in 1981by Captain Martin Bayerle, lies upright around 80 km south of Nantucket Island around 250 feet under water.
- RMS Lusitania
British ocean liner RMS Lusitania was the world’s largest passenger ship for a brief time when it launched in in 1906. The vessel was sunk on 7 May 1915 after being attacked by a German U-boat off the southern coast of Ireland, killing 1962 passengers and 1191 crew members. The disaster occurred on the 202nd trans-Atlantic crossing of RMS Lusitania. After the sinking, there were few salvage efforts and several items from the vessel were recovered. Currently the wreck lies 11 miles south of the lighthouse at Kinsale, Ireland, around 300 feet of water.