The bottoms of the world’s oceans and seas are covered with sunken ships, some of which are thousands of years old. It is now estimated that there are around three million shipwrecks out there.Many of these sunken ships are historically significant and even protected as underwater cultural heritage sites by UNESCO. Here are a few of the famous ones!
Who doesn’t know about Titanic and its fate? It is famous from James Cameron’s 1997 mega-blockbuster Titanic, which included actual footage of the ship’s eerie remains. The supposedly “unsinkable” ocean liner set sail on its maiden voyage on 10 April 1912 only to hit an iceberg just before midnight on 14 April and sank in less than three hours. Claiming 1,514 lives, it is often remembered as one of the most famous and tragic shipwrecks in history. It wasn’t until 1985 that a Franco-American expedition was able to reach the shipwreck, and discovered that it had been split in half – with each half lying within about a third of a mile apart from one another. The stern section was found to be almost completely crumbled, whereas the bow was in much better condition, with some of the interiors incredibly intact. Hundreds of artefacts have been excavated from the shipwreck and can be viewed in various exhibitions around the world – from tableware to furniture and even menus.
The Black Swan or The Black Swan Project is believed to be the greatest recovery of gold treasure in history. The treasure was found on the remains of the Spanish warship Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes which sank off Portugal in 1804. In 2007 the American company Odyssey Marine Exploration announced that it had uncovered gold worth an estimated $500 million. However, the Spanish government declared that they rightfully owned the gold, and the case went all the way to the US Supreme Court, only for the gold to be returned to Spanish authorities in 2012, where it is now displayed in various exhibitions across the country.
The Mary Rose was a Tudor warship commissioned and run during the reign of Henry VIII. Launched in 1511, it served in many battles against France, Brittany and Scotland, and in 1545 it sank during a battle against the French. Sinking in the Solent, close to the Isle of Wight, it was not rediscovered until 1971 and was salvaged in 1982. The sunken remains of the shipwreck are now viewable in a museum in Portsmouth and have become one of the most expensive and expansive projects in maritime archaeology history. In addition to the ship’s structure itself, over 26,000 artefacts have been recovered – many of which are now on public display. The remains of about half of the deceased crew members have also been recovered, and bone analysis has revealed that many suffered from health conditions such as arthritis, rickets and scurvy.
RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner launched in 1906 and made a total of 202 trans-Atlantic crossings before it was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat on 7 May 1915. Of the 1,962 passengers and crew aboard, 1,191 lost their lives. Causing outrage and shock across the world, some believe it was a major factor in encouraging the US to enter World War II as an ally. Today the sunken shipwreck is in a state of severe deterioration. As it had been operating for seven years prior to sinking, it is in much worse condition compared to The Titanic and much was destroyed in the initial blast of the torpedo. It lies 11 miles south of the lighthouse at Kinsale, Ireland. There have been various salvage attempts of the Lusitania, with many of the remaining ship’s items being recovered, some of which are privately owned while others are on displays in museums around the world.
Vasa is a sunken Swedish warship, believed to have been built between 1626 and 1628. The ship sank twenty minutes into its maiden voyage on 10 August 1628 after being hit by strong winds and flooding. Sinking less than a mile into its journey, it was regarded as a great embarrassment for the King of Sweden, and there were several salvage attempts, but none were successful. It was not until 1961 that the shipwreck was successfully recovered, including thousands of artefacts. The hull of the ship was found to be remarkably intact and with the help of some restoration, the ship is now a popular Swedish tourist attraction, with over 22 million visitors to date.