The discovery of the Royal Captain Shoal shipwreck near Palawan was featured by the National Museum of the Philippines (NMP) on its social media page for the #ShipwreckOfTheMonth through the #MuseumFromHomeSeries for netizens to learn about the “unearthed stories” of its excavation.
The NMP wrote that in 1985, World Wide First (WWF) led by French underwater archaeologist Franck Goddio partnered with them to look for the remains of the East India Company ship Royal Captain, a vessel that was commissioned to bring goods to Canton, China to the free port in Balambangan Islands then to England.
Balambangan is in the South China Sea near Half Moon Shoal at the eastern edge of the area named “Dangerous Ground”, according to geographical descriptions.
Measuring 43.6 meters from bow to the rudder, and weighing 780 tons, the ship was transporting mainly silk, tea, spices, and porcelains. In the year 1773, however, while on its way to Balambangan, the Royal Captain hit an uncharted reef near Palawan province.
“This tragedy gave the reef its name Royal Captain Shoal, which is technically a coral atoll, not a shoal,” the NMP said.
Excerpts from the ship’s log said its captain and crew were able to rescue some of the valuable cargo shortly before it sank.
“More than 200 years later, electronic surveys revealed a 4-pounder cannon at less than 14 meters deep and an 18th-century great bow anchor at a depth of 55 meters. This confirmed the log of the Royal Captain. However, no further evidence was found after several exploratory dives to over 100 meters deep,” the NMP said.
Fourteen years after 1985, the NMP said they were able to retrieve some of the cargo of the ship at a depth of 300 meters, making it very difficult for the scuba divers to excavate the wreck without the help of technology.
For this archaeological excavation, WWF used submersibles called the Deep Rovers that are able to withstand the deep-sea pressure, allowing it to dive up to 1,000 meters while carrying one passenger and one pilot,” said the NMP.
They were equipped with multifunctional robotic arms capable of picking up objects carefully. Approximately 1,847 artifacts, about 5% of the cargo, were retrieved including the ship’s bell, blue and white porcelains, vases, cups, and figurines.
In showcasing the Royal Captain Shoal shipwreck, the NMP reminded that archaeological study is very important in supporting the accurate interpretation of past events, which helps in reconstructing our history.
“When a site is disturbed or pilfered, we lose information forever without the significant context to assist us in piecing together our story. This is much more valuable than the selfish individual’s monetary gain or enriching their personal collections. Our heritage and recounting its narrative through material culture benefits future generations and our aspirations as a nation. If you see or have knowledge of sites being looted, report to your local government authorities immediately or contact the closest NMP office near you,” it said.