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Shipwreck Trivia
The building of ships has been essential to our development as a species in terms of travel, communication and understanding the world around us. As a result the number of shipwrecks on the ocean floor is far too numerous to list; there are an estimated quarter of a million shipwrecks lying off Britain's coastal waters alone...

The Titanic was one of the largest movable objects ever built - one sixth of a mile long, 104 feet high from keel to bridge and 92 feet wide, weighing a whopping 46,328 tons. It wasn't until 1985 the wreckage was located at 12,500 feet on the bottom of the Atlantic. Perhaps even more remarkable, the model in James Cameron's 1997 film was built 90 per cent to scale. It took three years to build, the same amount of time it took to make the film!

The greatest loss of life in a shipwreck came on 30 January 1945, when a German ocean liner The Wilhelm Gustloff was sunk by three torpedoes from the Soviet submarine S-13 in the Baltic Sea. Over 10,000 mainly civilian Germans from Gotenhafen in the Gdansk Bay were on board and over 9,000 died.

The Bermuda Triangle is a mysterious region of ocean in which dozens of planes and ships are believed to disappear without trace. One of the most famous cases was that of Flight 19 on 5 December 1945, which disappeared while on a training mission over the Atlantic. According to several reports the flight leader reported the ocean 'not looking as it should' and his compass spinning out of control, before simply disappearing. The Navy's official report of the accident was ascribed to 'causes or reasons unknown'.

In 1982 a Turkish sponge diver discovered a wreck off the south coast of Turkey in the Mediterranean Sea near Antalya. It was recovered using techniques of underwater excavation in 11 consecutive campaigns each lasting up to four months over the next decade. Named the Uluburun Ship, experts dated the wreck as dating to the late Bronze Age, tracing parts of it to trees felled around 1400 BC, making it the world's oldest recovered shipwreck.

In 1872 an abandoned ghost ship named the Marie Celeste was found off the coast of Portugal. Although there was three and a half feet of water in the hold, it was otherwise in good condition - yet the crew were missing. The captain's log reported no incident and it seemed that everyone had left while in the middle of their daily routine. The mystery remains unsolved.

An English trading ship returning from China called the Octavius was found drifting off the coast of Greenland in 1775. The captain's log showed that the ship had attempted the Northwest Passage, which by that point had never been successfully traversed. When recovered, it became clear that this ghost ship and the bodies of her frozen crew had been drifting among the pack ice for 13 years

According to a recent survey in Britain's leading speciality scuba diving magazine, the number one shipwreck to visit off the UK coast is that of the Salette, a 5842-ton P&O express mail liner which was sunk during World War One by a German U-boat in Lyme Bay.

The Flying Dutchman is, according to maritime folklore, a phantom ship. For centuries sailors would tell of how this ruined ship can never go home, but is doomed to forever sail the seven seas. The story goes that The Dutchman is spotted from afar, sometimes glowing with ghostly light, and the sight of this mysterious ship is reckoned by seafarers to be a portent of doom.

One of the most historically significant undersea discoveries came in 1902 on the finishing of a small metal clocklike mechanism found in a shipwreck by divers working off the Greek island of Antikythera. Corroded and crumbling from its 2,000 year stint under the sea, its dials, gear wheels and inscribed plates led historians to believe it was an ancient clockwork astronomical computer. This tiny discovery made the world realise how advanced socalled 'primitive' science actually was.

Shipwrecks are not confined to the treacherous oceans; the Great Lakes of North America, located on or near the Canada-United States border have had their share of shipwrecks. The five lakes make up the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth but as with the sea, storms and reefs are a common threat. It is estimated that between 6,000 and 10,000 ships have sunk or been stranded since the early 1800s, many with partial or total loss of crew. The Great Lakes Storm of 1913 became the worst Great Lakes storm on record: at least 12 ships sank and 31 more were left stranded, while 248 sailors lost their lives over a single weekend.

In 1622, 28 Spanish treasure-laden galleons were hit by a hurricane in the channel between Havana and the Florida Keys. Two of these now famous galleons, the Atocha and the Margarita were dashed against the lower Florida reefs and sank forty miles west of present-day Key West. Centuries later American Mel Fisher and his salvage crew spent 17 years locating both ships. In 1980 they salvaged treasure worth over 40 million US dollars from the Margarita; five years later silver and gold bars, silver coins, emeralds, and artifacts were recovered from the Atocha worth a staggering 400 million dollars!

Under international maritime law, any historic wreck found within twelve miles of a nation state's coast falls within that state's jurisdiction. In the UK, the government controls who may visit certain wrecks, and whether or not they may remove or disturb any part of that wreck. In 1973 the Protection of Wrecks Act was passed and there are currently 48 wrecks off the UK coast that no diver can visit, let alone touch, without receiving a licence from the government


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