Northern Territory coast

Japanese shipwreck secrets to be unlocked

Mother of pearl

From Nine News

The Arafura Sea off the Northern Territory coast can be a treacherous stretch of water during a storm.

So it was in 1937 when Japanese pearling mother ship the Sanyo Maru went down in Boucaut Bay, with 20 people aboard and about 200 tonnes of mother of pearl, worth about 70,000 pounds at the time.

"It was an absolute fortune," maritime archaeologist David Steinberg said on Friday.

Mr Steinberg, from the NT's Department of Lands, Planning and the Environment will next week lead a team of six divers who will investigate the wreck.

It is thought the Sanyo Maru went down because it was carrying too much cargo during the rough weather.

Two people died when it sunk and another perished during a salvage operation a few months later, Mr Steinberg said.

Two of the bodies have since been recovered, but it is possible one remains at the site.

As a sign of respect, the diving team will perform a traditional ceremony where they take a sip of saki and then pour the rest of the bottle over the wreck.

"We are just going to treat this site with respect, as if it is a grave site," Mr Steinberg said.

It is likely that the salvage team in the 1930s only took part of the huge reserves of mother of pearl on board.

But before treasure hunters with visions of finding large numbers of pearls on the site pack their bags, Mr Steinberg cautioned that the Sanyo Maru is protected by law as a significant shipwreck.

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