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South African Divers Find Possible 1643 Shipwreck

Two divers who went spearfishing in South Africa may have found the wreck site of a Portuguese ship that sank in 1643. Find out about the discovery. 

Martes, 18 de Agosto de 2020 | 14:52 (actualizado a las 14:52)
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Possible Site Of 1643 Shipwreck Found In South Africa

In 1643, the Santa Maria Madre de Deus sank in the rough waters of southern Africa’s Wild Coast on her way back to Europe from the East. Even though porcelain shards and beads still wash up on the Bonza Bay beach, the wreck site was never found – but that may have changed, thanks to two recreational divers.

Fishing Leads To Discovery

In September 2019, Matthew Fenn and Hennie Roos went on a recreational spearfishing dive near the Nahoon River mouth. They never thought that their catch would be three cannons on the seabed.

Fenn and Roos told John Barry of Southern Cross Cruises and to Kevin Cole, a scientist at the East London museum in Buffalo City. A week later, the friends took Barry to see the cannons for himself. It must have felt as exciting as betting online, and if that’s what you enjoy, click to find more options.

Marine archaeologists think the cannons are from the wreck of the Santa Maria Madre de Deus, a Portuguese naveta that sank near Bonza Bay more than 300 years ago. At least 28 similar cannons are said to have been on the ship, as was a cargo of spices, silk, Chinese porcelain, and carnelian beads. The ship was on its way back to Portugal from, Goa, India.

It was captained by Dom Luis de Castelbranco when it sank. The few survivors who survived the wreck walked several hundred kilometres to Cape Correntes, in what is now Mozambique.

A Thrilling Find

John Gribble, a Cape Town-based maritime archaeologist, and other scuba divers led by Barry returned to the historical site. They found pieces of cut stone that possibly were from the ship’s ballast, as well as anchors and another cannon.

Gribble said he thinks the wreck may be one of the only untouched Portuguese wrecks along the South African coast. He explained that at least 13 Portuguese ships sank along the coast between the 15th and 17th centuries, during the so-called Age of Exploration. Aside from the Santa Maria Madre de Deus, the only other wreck unaccounted for is the Soares, which went down in 1505.

As the shipwreck’s identity has yet to be confirmed, the site has been named the Nahoon River Wreck. It is under the protection of the National Heritage Resources Act. Nothing can be moved at the site or removed from it without a permit.

According to Gribble, the local museum’s former researcher, Graham Bell-Cross, thought a 17th century Portuguese wreck may have been lying near Bonza Bay and the Quinira River. He based his theory on the porcelain, beads, and other objects that have washed ashore.

Although the ship probably was not carrying treasure, it could still be one of the most valuable finds. If it is an undisturbed wreck, it potentially could increase the little knowledge that experts have of the Portuguese ships of the period. Every other wreck from the period found in South African waters was disturbed by the modern salvage of those who found them before the sites were reported to archaeologists.


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