Cape coast ready to give up its ship­wreck se­crets

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - JAN CRONJE

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.


Marine ar­chae­ol­o­gist Bruno Werz is lead­ing the search for De Haar­lem.

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