Cape coast ready to give up its shipwreck secrets
THE discovery of a centuries-old Dutch East India Company nautical chart was the final clue that marine archaeologist Bruno Werz needed to prove he was indeed on the right track to finding the wreck of De Haarlem, a Dutch ship that sank in Table Bay in 1647.
On Thursday Werz announced he had narrowed down the search for the wreck to an area between Bloubergstrand and Milnerton.
The Dutch ship sank more than 350 years ago en route from Batavia, now Jakarta, to Holland via the Cape of Good Hope. It was carrying a cargo of Chinese porcelain, guinée cloth, black pepper, cinnamon, as well as a number of cannons.
Werz is the chief executive of the African Institute for Marine and Underwater Research, Exploration and Education (AIMURE), which is running the search for the wreckage.
A former Dutch navy diver, he has been involved in the excavation of a number of well-known ships, including the Bom Jesus on the Namibian coast.
In 2008 the wreckage of this 16th century Portuguese ship was found by diamond miners near Oranjemund. Werz was involved in its painstaking excavation, which included a spectacular haul of priceless ancient coins.
Werz said he had spent many days searching for any mention of the vessel in Dutch and South African state archives.
The eureka moment came when he found a map in the Dutch archives which stated “this is where the ship Haarlem foundered”. Geophysical surveys of the area indicated by the chart had thrown up “three major contacts” which could be the wreckage of the wooden ship. The next step in the search is to explore these sites with test excavations.
If evidence of a ship is found, AIMURE would apply to the South African Heritage Resources Agency for a permit for full excavation. Werz said, adding the entire process could take between four to five years, and would cost roughly R3.2 million.
Werz, formerly a senior lecturer in marine archaeology at UCT, said there were roughly 35 shipwrecks in the area that AIMURE believed the De Haarlem had sunk, and it was possible their search could uncover other ships which foundered on the coast.
He said the crew of De Haarlem had managed to salvage most of its cargo in 1647.
Of its 120 crew members, 62 established a “survivor’s camp” in Milnerton, while 58 travelled on to Holland aboard two ships accompanying De Haarlem.
The 62 crewmen survived for a year before they were picked up by other ships of the Dutch East India Company. Werz said they traded and established good relations with the indigenous population.
He said the search was not about salvage, as most of the cargo was saved by the crew.
“It’s not the cargo, it is the archeological significance.
“There won’t be any bullion of gold or silver or diamonds,” he said. email@example.com
Marine archaeologist Bruno Werz is leading the search for De Haarlem.