Shipwrecks in Southeast Asia

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Reading Tony Well's Shipwrecks and Sunken Treasure - focused on southeast asian wreckages - allegedly the first book just about southeast asian wrecks.

Sea transport would have been only way and practical means of transport for thousands of years. Wreckages were also common.

  • Causes for wrecks included: Dangerous reefs (hydrographic survey ships meant to survey and warn against dangerous reefs crashed on the dangerous reefs. EIC ship Vansittart crashed in the Gasper Straits in Indonesia 1789 after hitting a shoal). War. Weather. Human error. eg setting gunpowder on fire in the dark gunpowder room. Unseaworthiness or Timber Dry Rot. Timbers seperating so water came in. (Water must be thrown on them constantly)

how much was lost?

  • chinese junks braved the asian waters for centuries. unestimated amount sank.
  • voyage from portugal down thru south atlantic across indian ocean and into southeast asia. From 1499 to 1650, 800 portugeuse vessels sailed from lisbon to take this route and 150 were not heard of again ever. no trace.
  • of the fabled manilla galleons journeying from manilla across the pacific in quest for peruvian silver between 1565 to 181, 129 galleons were lost. 99 in philippines alone. the dreaded San Barnardino straits located between islands of luzon and samar.
  • between 1600 and 1800, the english east india company lost 200 vessels. many went to the bottom carrying rich treasures. in 1808 and 1809 alone the eic lost 10 homeward bound vessels and lost one million in sterling.
  • between 1602 and 1794, dutch voc lost 105 outward bound ships. between 1602 and 1795, dutch voc lost 141 homeward bound ships.

What kind of cargo was lost? perishables:

  • fine nanking silk and silk from china
  • tea from china
  • opium from bengal (bangladesh), damuan (india) and turkey
  • cotton from america nand china
  • spices from the moluccas island in indo
  • metals from europe such as iron
  • animal skinds from american and british islaes

What to ask when researching wrecks Tony wells cautions that you must ask yourself these questions even if they seem painfully silly

  • Did the ship really exist - countless books have been written about shipwrecks and lost treasure chests being guarded by a large octopus surrounded by sharks on a sunken ship with a skeleton at the wheel. Check your record and prove beyond a shadow of doubt that the ship is not a ghost ship.
  • Did the ship actually sink? lots of ships hit hidden reef or shoal but manage to get off undamaged. (eg: 1788 may 1, amercian ship warren hastings on returning from china to amercia grounded in gaspar straits indonesia, researchers thought it sunk there. but the ship actually got off undamaged eventualy and went home.
  • Where did it sink exactly? lat long not accurate by the sailors who write about it. ships final resting position may have changed as currents and tides moved the ship over the years.
  • What were weather conditions? if you know exact date and time, a meteorologist can accurately calculate tide and current direction at that time.
  • What cargo was lost? Was it recovered at the time of wreckage? Check the ship's manifest to see what cargo it was carrying. THis is very important and will determine if a salvage is worth investing in.
  • Check if there were salvage attempts at a later date.

Treasure hunting around reefs.

  • a small boat towing a side scan sonar and proton magnetometer.

Looking at maritime charts today, you may notice a lot of reefs and shoafs are named after ships or captains. reason why:

  • ship wrecked on that reef or shoal

eg: bambek shoal. off the malaca cost (cape rachado) after bambeek, the dutch east indianman on jan 1702, which wrecked on the shoal. vansittart's shoal. an example in which a vessel hit it, floated off and then sank. when vansittart hit the shoal, it began immediately taking on water but did not sink so captain lestock wilson headed it towards the nearest island. most interesting for treasure hunters are the ships which hit the shoal and then did not sink but wandered into deep waters and sank intact. this was case for VOC ship Geldermalsen wrecked January 1751 going home from china. hit uncharted reef in riau, floated into deeper water and sank. michael hatcher found it in 1985 with huge cargo. April 7 1845. colubian bound from sydney to singapore ran on a hidden shoal in gaspar straits without getting stuck. ship anchored at once, but ship had to be abandoned the following day as it was sinking.

  • ship hit but got away with little or no damage

on may 23 1802, american ship severn bound from china to new york struck a coral shoal in gaspar straits indonesia. threw 30 tons of ballast overboard and got off on next high tide. now its the severn shoal.

  • ship discovered the reef/shoal but didn't touch it. just saw it.

A handdrawn map of the routes between Singapore and London (and all of its likely stops)

Sea route (eg a typical EIC ship route in the 1820s and likely ports of call inbetween) Telephone line route (The first transcontinental call (Oriental Telephone and Electric Compan, 1 December 1937, first international call between Singapore and London from Hill Street Central Telephone Exchange) First Imperial Airways Route (Eastern Route 1935? - First London-Singapore airflight 9 December 1933) Air routes (eg a typical BA11, BA12 flight path, countries and major cities under the route) Undersea Cable routes (SEA-ME-WE 3, SEA-ME-WE 4, etc, main connection points) Satellite routes (Intelsat and Inmarsat)

Sea Route of an EIC ship in 1820s with likely ports of call marked out. Imperial Airways Eastern Route in 1930s with stops from the original route proving exercise marked out. Telephone line connection route and location of telephone exchanges relaying the first transcontinential call between Singapore and London. Air route of the typical BA11/BA12 route between Singapore and London and countries/cities passed under the typical route in 2016. Undersea SEA-ME-WE Cable route and connection points on land. Intelsat and Inmarsat (Satellite Route)

Many well-documented voyages between UK to China via Straits of Malacca and Singapore including analysis of voyages in 1839 by EIC staff on how they could have been made faster. The first transcontinental call in SEA was placed from Singapore to London. First telephone company in Singapore - staff came from London. The first long-distance flight from London to Singapore - Imperial Airways active 1929-1939 (eventually merged into BA) The current BA11/BA12 route I take.