Shipwreck hunter close to lost treasure

Hugh Edwards with the anchor of what he believes is the Aagtekerke at the Abrolhos

By Joseph Catanzaro - The West Australian

A WA shipwreck hunter credited with finding the watery grave of the Batavia believes he has discovered the great ghost ship of the Abrolhos, a Dutch merchantman that mysteriously disappeared almost 300 years ago with 200 souls and a fortune in silver aboard.

The Aagtekerke, which vanished in 1726 on a journey from Africa to Indonesia, has eluded Hugh Edwards for almost 50 years

But the 79-year-old said that decades of research and many expeditions meant the ocean might be about to give up a jealously guarded secret.

Mr Edwards believes the sunken grave of the Aagtekerke - and up to three tonnes of silver coins which would be worth millions of dollars today - lie just a few hours from Geraldton by boat.

In his Swanbourne home yesterday, he unrolled a map on a desk littered with relics and pointed at a treacherous section of reef off the Abrolhos Islands.

"We believe we've found it," Mr Edwards said.

In 1966, Mr Edwards was spear-fishing off the Abrolhos when he found an elephant tusk on the ocean floor. He knew then and there it would lead him to a wreck. He just didn't realise it would be the lost Aagtekerke.

The tusk was a mere 300m away from where, in 1963, Mr Edwards and his team had found evidence of the wreck of another Dutch merchantman, the Zeewyk.

The ships had been built like identical twins.

The Zeewyk wreck would later prove to be the major obstacle and the key to unlocking the mystery of her missing sister ship's supposed location.

In the 1700s, Dutch trading vessels, loaded with chests full of silver destined for the China spice trade, frequently made the dangerous voyage between the Cape of Good Hope and Indonesia.

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