Up to 1300 shipwrecks lie undiscovered

A diver on the wreck of the Batavia. Photo: WA museum

From WA Today - Ray Sparvell

Two wrecks discovered over six months during the search for Malaysia flight MH370 are ghostly reminders of the shipping dangers posed by the Indian Ocean.

While those long-fogotten vessels were found quite some way from land, some estimates suggest as many as 1600 vessels – large and small - may have found their final, watery resting places along the WA coast.

Up to 1300 of these, laden with treasure of both the literal and historical variety, lie undiscovered on the ocean floor, in a similar vein to those found in the MH370 search.

Maritime archaeologist Ross Anderson of the WA Museum said the key reasons why it has been such a notorious graveyard for ships was primarily storms, cyclones and shallow reefs along the coast.

"Some vessels were also purposely sunk or abandoned after they had passed their 'use by' date and were no longer seaworthy," he said.

Another key contributor to that extensive catalogue of wrecks was that navigational longitude couldn't be accurately measured until the mid-18th century. Many ships simply failed to turn north for the Dutch East Indies at the right time.

As a result they were wrecked on the WA coast. Mr Anderson said coastal trade vessels carrying passengers, cargo and mail had been important in linking WA settlements before road transport.

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