Divers look for signs of sailors’ lives in sunk frigate

The Ertugrul

By Yoshitaka Tsujimoto and Yomiuri Shimbun - The Japan News

A private team of Japanese and Turkish researchers has conducted its first underwater survey in five years of the Ottoman Navy frigate that sank off the coast here in 1890.

The Ertugrul visited Japan in 1890 to express thanks for a decoration Emperor Meiji had sent to the Ottoman sultan. Shortly after the ship left Yokohama Port to return home, it encountered a storm and sank off Wakayama Prefecture on Sept. 16. More than 500 sailors were killed, while 69 were rescued by local residents.

On the morning of Feb. 10, I boarded a ship at Kashino fishing port on Kii-Oshima island in Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture. About 10 minutes later, we arrived at an area called Funagora. The Ertugrul is said to have struck a reef there, about 100 meters off the coast.

The currents are strong near Shionomisaki cape, the southernmost cape of Honshu. Only around this time of year are the currents said to be calm enough to conduct an underwater survey. I put on a dry suit and headed to the ocean bed 13 meters below the surface.

Research team members, including Turkish marine archaeologist Tufan Turanli and Japanese divers, began measuring ballast that has become fixed to the seafloor. Reflecting the fact that it was a navy ship that sank, a cannonball could also be seen.

After the measurement, we moved to “the cave,” an area of about 10 square meters that resembles a cave. Entering an about 80-centimeter-high space, we found a square metal plate about 13 centimeters on each side that already seemed to be part of the seafloor. There was also a metal piece that may have been part of the ship’s keel.

I shone my flashlight and wiped sand away with a brush the research members gave me. When mud flew up, the team members sucked it away with a dredge.

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