"The Brederode 1785" (page 1 of 3)
The search for the Brederode began in 1982. The Brederode was a Dutch East India Company (VOC) vessel that was lost off the South African coast while homeward bound from Batavia and China in 1785, carrying a valuable cargo of tea, spices, satin and linen cloth, porcelain, tin and gold.
Many years ago, Charles Shapiro began combing archives in the Netherlands, United Kingdom and in South Africa, searching for further information on the location of two other wrecks namely the Johanna 1682 and the Nossa Senhora dos Milagros 1686, when he came across information relating to the Brederode.
Forward to Brederode Page 2
Aqua Exploration, a Cape Town-based salvage company, consisting of Charles and Arnold (Mickey) Shapiro, Frederik (Erik) Lombard and Michael (Mike) Keulemans received their lucky break when their ex-partner Andre (who had started his own group), obtained vital information from a trawler fisherman in 1991. The fisherman stated that his nets had snagged in some wreckage many years before while doing bottom trawling, and that a wooden pulley block was brought to the surface. Andre's group attempted a magnetometer survey for that site, but were unsuccessful in obtaining a reading in a depth of 65 metres. After that survey, Andre's group broke up and as a last resort, he then decided to pass that information on to them. On the strength of that information, they planned a side scan sonar survey around the approximate position given to Andre. Later in that same year, on Mike Keuleman's last trip out to sea before his untimely death (due to Cancer), the group was successful in getting a side scan sonar image and magnetometer reading of a wreck site in 65 metres of water.
Between 1991 and 1997, Charlie contracted several professional surveying companies to positively identify the site with the use of a remote operated vehicle (ROV) camera. Due to equipment failure, adverse weather conditions and numerous other reasons, they had no success.
In 1998, Sverker Hallstrom with his ship "Scorpio" arrived from a shipwreck search in Madagascar and was held up in Durban. While in South Africa, Sverker, a professional shipwreck explorer, decided to look into the possibility of doing a project in South Africa. He already had information on the Brederode in his research portfolio, but it was incomplete. When he learned that Aqua Exploration had been looking for the wreck and that Charlie had a pre-disturbance survey permit, he decided to contact him to explore the possibility of a collaboration.
Aqua Exploration and Hallstrom Holdings joined forces, and on 22 May 1998, began the search to relocate Aqua Exploration's original surveying position and to positively identify the shipwreck. Repeated side scan surveys were done in the area, but proved to be unsuccessful. The previous survey company had reported that the site must have covered over by sand and therefore no more visible to side-scan. Aqua Exploration found this report "hard to swallow" at the time, but it seemed as if they might have been correct. Looking at the monitor, the side-scan "noise" caused by swells, current, cable drag etc., was quite unsettled and could easily hide a genuine reading. Sverker, who from the time of making the agreement with Charlie, never believed that the position he was shown could be the Brederode and was very keen and adamant to do a survey in "his" area (an area which Aqua Exploration had covered in earlier years). After disregarding Charlie and Erik's advice that the rocky area was not suited for a side-scan survey (reefs would cast too many shadows and hide any old wrecks), but rather a magnetometer survey, Sverker went to "his" area to see for himself. A day's trial was enough for him to realize that it was a waste of time and a magnetometer was needed.
With Winter on its way, a quick decision had to be made and Sverker decided to airfreight his magnetometer together with its long cable from Sweden. When it arrived, Sverker combined both systems, but refused Charlie's request to first go and check their position out again. He went straight to "his" area and there they scoured the area for 24 hours a day for the next 9 days. Charlie was in charge of the magnetometer while Sverker and his assistant kept careful watch over the steering of the vessel as well as the side-scan screen. Two "hits" were recorded on the magnetometer of which Charlie believed one to be a wreck and the other to be magnetic rock. On checking these two positions out with the use of an ROV camera, one turned out to be a 19th century wreck and the other was a magnetic field (magnetic rocks). Sverker was totally demoralized and Charlie and Erik once again pleaded with him to try their position once again. They definitely had a wreck there, which if not the Brederode, needed to be eliminated for their own peace of mind. It was an absolutely perfectly calm day at sea, without much swell, which would produce excellent side scan images over that sand area. The weather reports were predicting that bad weather would be setting in by the next day. Sverker had nothing to lose and due to the camaraderie between them, it was agreed to give it another shot. Once again Sverker plotted in their position and set a heading for the skipper to steer. They reached the area at 20.00 pm. that evening and started their first survey line, which Sverker had set to run through the middle of their position. It was ten minutes into this line when Charlie jumped for joy and shouted that they had a "hit" and the wreck had been relocated! Charlie made note of the time and date as being 20.10 pm. 25th June 1998! The magnetometer showed a tiny reading, but on the next line it got stronger and the side-scan operator also got a good image. The next few hours was spent attempting to record the exact position, which was accomplished. As the night drew on, the weather started to deteriorate drastically and Scorpio had to take shelter in the nearby Struisbaai. The wreck had not been covered over since its discovery in 1991, but obviously overlooked in both instances and not recognized amongst the side scan sonar "noise!"
On the morning of the 26th June, the wind was still blowing and the weather deteriorating, so Charlie and Erik went home to Cape Town. They realized that the sea conditions would not be calm enough to do an ROV camera survey over the next few days. Sverker reported that on the 28th June, the wind and swell in the Bay had increased to such an extent, that Scorpio had to weigh anchor and steam up and down in the area until the following morning. The 29th June was Charlie's birthday and he and his wife Karen had booked a flight to Mauritius for the 4th July. They were getting very anxious, as the trip would have to be cancelled if the survey did not take place before then. Erik was back in Struisbaai and reported that he did not think that the next day would be suitable, but Charlie and Karen decided that they would go to Struisbaai, as conditions could calm down enough over night. The 30th June, Charlie and Karen left for Struisbaai at 5 am. The weather forecast verified that the storm had run its course. Charlie, Karen and Erik joined Sverker on board the Scorpio and they set sail for the site. Everyone was high on optimism and once on anchor at the site, Sverker put his "Sea Owl" ROV camera down to start the survey.
After about an hour's survey, Sverker checked his ships position and found that the current had taken them over the site and the ROV needed to go in the opposite direction. The site now lay on their starboard side and not the port side anymore. It was not long after that, an image appeared on the monitor, which could only be part of the wreck in this totally sand area! Within moments, shards of blue and white porcelain could be seen on the monitor, lying scattered in the sand. Charlie said to Sverker jokingly, "now find some tin to identify this site!" These words were hardly out of his mouth, when images of tin ingots appeared, then an iron cannon, followed by a huge anchor, boxes of porcelain, bronze cannon and then a ship's bell! The elusive Brederode, untouched and unseen since her sinking in 1785, had now been videoed; 213 years later!
Sixteen years of perseverance and searching by Aqua Exploration had at last been brought to that historical moment, which had been captured on video. Sverker once again expressed his great surprise at Aqua Exploration's find and still could not believe that the Brederode could lie in that area and admitted that he would never have considered doing a search there. He then pulled out two bottles of Champagne to celebrate their success!
The video footage of the wreck shows a flat site with little structure visible above the sand. Because the Brederode sank slowly onto a sandy bottom, it is hoped that substantial portions of her hull will be well preserved under the sand, and will yield a wealth of archaeological and historical information.
An indication of this potential is immediately clear in the form of large areas of the site, where well preserved cargo items such as tin and porcelain can be seen. Also visible on the seabed is one of the most important and valued items to be found on any wreck site - the ship's bell. This artefact often holds the key to the positive identification of a wreck, as bells were generally cast with the date and maker's name in the same year as a vessel was completed. Among other artifacts visible, were two bronze cannons.
A major project, involving the National Monuments Council (today known as the South African Heritage Resources Agency - SAHRA), South African Cultural History and Maritime Museums (today known as Iziko Museums of Cape Town), Aqua Exploration and Hallstrom Holdings has been established to investigate and excavate the site. A Project Steering Committee comprising of representatives of these parties has been established to administer and guide the project.
Although the remains of a number of homeward bound VOC vessels have been excavated around the world before, the Brederode is believed to one of the few undisturbed wrecks remaining, and which will be excavated according to internationally acceptable archaeological standards.
Furthermore, the successful archaeological excavation of a site at this depth poses immense challenges and will, on completion, contribute to international knowledge about VOC ships and shipping, and the archaeological excavation of deep shipwrecks.
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Charles Shapiro cc T/A "Aqua Exploration"
South African Historical Wreck Society
+27 (0) 82 086 5937