An expedition to the wreck of the Sanyo Maru, 75 years after it sank off Maningrida, has revealed an historic treasure trove of information.
More than ten years after locating the wreck of Japanese pearling mother ship the Sanyo Maru, NT Heritage Branch Maritime Archaeologist David Steinberg has finally closed a long-open chapter in the historical saga.
After a 2002 expedition to the site in Boucaut Bay, around 60 kilometres off Arnhem Land, was abandoned due to poor weather, Mr Steinberg this month led a team of six to dive the wreck and document the findings.
The 36 metre steel hulled vessel was a mother ship or support vessel to a fleet of Japanese pearling boats. It capsized and sank on 1 July 1937 in rough seas, laden with food, clothing and mother of pearl shell. Two of the crew died when the ship sank, and a third died during a later salvage mission.
This year the wreck turned 75, which triggered automatic protection under Section 13 of the Commonwealth’s Historic Shipwrecks Act.
Among the ‘treasures’ located at the wreck site, Mr Steinberg’s team found a Japanese sandal and a rusting harmonica, believed to be belongings of the Japanese crew.
Mr Steinberg says it’s one of the most significant historic shipwrecks discovered to date in the Territory.
“I consider this a very rare and significant find for the Northern Territory. It is a unique contribution to the Australian archaeological resource and will have international interest, particularly with the Japanese.
“We came back with far more data and knowledge that I expected. The conditions permitted us to rapidly and accurately survey the wreck, which will enable us to produce an accurate site plan of the ship,” Mr Steinberg said.
The divers took down video cameras, still cameras, large tape measures and drawing boards with plastic paper and pencils for underwater drawing.
Mr Steinberg said there are more chapters still to explore in the historical drama of the Sanyo Maru.
“The first step is to pull all the data together into a single report, to assess the overall significance of the wreck, which will then determine future research and management goals. By updating the entry of the Sanyo Maru on the Australian National Shipwreck Database, we share our new understanding of this wreck with the public,” Mr Steinberg said.
Preliminary contact has been made with the Osaka Museum of Ethnography, which may lead to future collaborative research.
It is important to note that under Section 13 of the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act, it is an offence for a person to damage, remove, or disturb a historic shipwreck or an associated relic.
The penalty for any person breaching section 13 of the Historic Shipwreck Act is a fine up to $10,000 or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 5 years.
In waters off the Northern Territory, the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act is administered with the cooperation of the Minister’s Delegate, the Director Heritage Branch, Department of Lands, Planning and the Environment.