Oman and the Netherlands are to conduct a joint study on a Dutch East India Company ship, the Amstelveen’ that wrecked off the sultanate some 250 years ago.
The incident happened off Ras Madrakah on the Wusta coast on August 7, 1763. According to an 18th century Dutch logbook that was found in a bookshop in southern France recently, 30 surviving crew members made a gruelling journey along the Sharqiyah coast to Muscat.
There have been more shipwrecks along the Omani coasts in history but the Amstelveen mishap stands out. Some years ago, by coincidence, a 18th century Dutch logbook was found in an antiquarian bookshop in southern France that turned out to contain the account of the shipwrecking of Amstelveen at Cape Madrakah, 700km to the south of Muscat, and the dreadful trek by the 30 surviving crew members along the Sharqiyah coast to Muscat.
The log was published in 1766 by the only surviving officer of the ship, third mate Cornelis Eyks, but then soon forgotten. Dr Klaas Doornbos from the Netherlands analysed the mysterious shipwreck and subsequently decided to write a book on the intriguing story.
The book, Shipwreck and Survival in Oman 1763, has been completed but not yet published. An Arabic edition of the book is in the offing.
The story of the trek is a perfect sample of shared Omani-Dutch heritage. It lists the experiences and hardships of Dutch castaways in 18th century Oman, their encounters with Omanis in the desert, in Al Hadd, Sur and Muscat. Some of them died on their way to Muscat due to the extreme hardship.
The book provides fascinating details on the surviving skills of the crew and things like cultural misunderstandings, the clothes people used to wear, the food offered, the arms used, housing and customs. In Muscat one of the first locals the castaways met turned out to speak perfect Dutch !
Other issues are dealt with in the book, like the mystery behind the Amstelveen’s deviating course that led to the wrecking, and the rather un-empathetic way the Dutch East India Company dealt with the survivors.
A memorandum of understanding was concluded recently between the two countries to pave the way for the joint study, signed for Oman by Salim bin Mohammed Al Mahrooqi, Under-secretary of the Heritage and Culture Ministry for Heritage Affairs, and for the Netherlands by Ed Kronenburg, Secretary-general of the Foreign Affairs Ministry.