By Mayabhushan - Panaji
Next time you are headed for Goa, it makes sense to pack in your scuba gear along with swimming trunks.
With more than three shipwrecks discovered and explored off the State’s coast in the last seven years, marine scientists at the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) here believe that Goa might be the next big thing as far as underwater shipwreck exploration is concerned.
“We have begun explorations since 1988 but regular, organised explorations began in 1997. We had found two ships earlier, but this is the first time we found a steel-hulled steamship,” NIO marine researcher Dr Sila Tripathi told The Pioneer, adding that the recent find was a century-old merchant ship.
Over time, however, some of the underwater relics have been stripped bare of their merchandise by local divers.
“Boilers, furnace bricks, flanges, broken copper pipes and tubes were found scattered over a wide area. The engine, which appears to be a triple-expansion type, is reasonably well preserved, though local divers have despoiled the wreck in the recent past. They have removed copper alloys, and other attractive or saleable items,” Dr Tripathi said.
In the last few years, three wrecks — including a 17th century merchant ship (oldest wreck found in Indian waters to date) — were found at the Sunchi Reef (between Mormugao harbour and the promontories of Cabo headland), a Basel Mission Company shipwreck at St George reef (eastern side of Grande Island to the south of Mormugao port) and the recently-explored merchant ship at Amee shoals (a sand bank that divides the Mormugao bay from the Arabian Sea).
The Sunchi shipwreck, found in 2006, fetched a unique brass barrel of a handgun, iron guns, an anchor, Chinese ceramics, Martaban pottery (stoneware), assorted bases of glass bottles, elephant tusks, hippopotamus teeth, lead pipe fragments, a copper vessel and strip, stone bricks and dressed granite blocks — all sitting pretty at one location.
According to the NIO, the wrecks have offered rare glimpses and vital clues to the Portuguese and British maritime trade.
“The stamps on the flanges and the name on the firebricks of the wreck suggest a British origin, and the three scotch boilers indicate that it was a large merchant ship (naval vessels used water-tube boilers),” Tripathi said.
The scientist further said that in the 1880s, steel from Sheffield (England) was imported by Portugal for the laying of a railway line from Mormugao to Castle Rock, a railway station in Karnataka near the border with Goa.
“The vessel could be from that period. However, lack of datable finds means that it is difficult to identify the date and origin of this wreck,” Tripathi rued.
With Goa being a major trading post for the Portuguese, it is suspected that a large number of ships sunk off its shores.
“The Portuguese records housed in the Goa State Archives, Panaji, and India House, Lisbon, hint at the wrecking of numerous Portuguese shipwrecks in shallow waters off Goa, with its treacherous reefs and sand-bars, in prevailing storms or due to enemy fire,” Dr KH Vora, a marine archaeology project leader at the NIO said.
The Portuguese had established several shipyards in Bassein (Maharashtra), Cochin (Kerala), Goa and Daman on the western coast of India.