Charlie Shapiro

South African shipwreck diver waits more than a decade for treasure

Charlie Shapiro

By Fran Blandy - Telegraph

Centuries-old trinkets from rusty buttons to gifts destined for kings take up a room in Charlie Shapiro's house - treasures from a lifetime spent combing the ocean floor for shipwrecks.

But the wreck diver's trove is incomplete, as one of his richest recent finds lies waiting in the deep fathoms of the ocean a decade after its discovery, at risk from pillagers.

Shapiro found the 224-year-old shipwreck of the Dutch Brederode 11 years ago, but a series of mishaps has left him still waiting for government to grant him a permit to excavate its 120 million-rand (£10.1 million) cargo.

"That wreck was my baby, that was my life's work," Shapiro says of the ship which has dominated three decades of his existence.

From combing archives in Europe and South Africa, to a 16-year search and against-the-odds discovery of a ship considered an amazingly well-preserved archaeological find, Shapiro's tale is literally of a treasure hunt.

Greed and disagreements broke up the group of salvors that he formed, and his permit to excavate the ship was lost in a whirl of law changes and a government moratorium on all permits, which has only recently been lifted.

Jonathan Sharfman, a maritime archeologist at the South African Heritage Resources Agency, told AFP that the Brederode, sunk in 1785, is a "completely unique kind of shipwreck.

It has the potential to be really high profile".