Malacca Strait Shipwrecks


Several months of side-scan-sonar and magnetometer survey in the Malacca Straits have led to the discovery of three 16th or early 17th century European shipwrecks, two of them lying side-by-side on the seabed. Diving conditions are generally appalling with strong currents and near zero visibility. Slack water during neap tides provided the only photo opportunities.

The first wreck to be located has been designated M1J (Malacca survey 1, hit J). Preliminary investigations suggest that it is the ship of the Portuguese Admiral Coutinho. His gunpowder room exploded during a battle with the Achenese in 1583 sending the ship straight to the bottom. If this identification can be confirmed it would make M1J the oldest European shipwreck so far found in Malaysia.

The other two wrecks lying side-by-side have been designated M2BW (west) and M2BE (east). They have clearly been stripped of all armament and fittings before being burnt and sunk. The only artefacts of note are stoneware fragments and stone cannon balls. It is thought that these vessels are more likely to be late 16th than early 17th century. They are both European and therefore probably Portuguese.

Only preliminary excavation has been carried out on these three sites. The Malaysian Heritage Department has expressed some interest in excavating the M1J site. The site has no commercial value but considerable historical value for Malaysia. A Government funded excavation would be most appropriate, although if navy divers are used they must be closely supervised by a trained maritime archaeologist, for recovering artefacts without proper recording is equivalent to looting.


Portuguese Shipwreck Found off Malacca, Flecker, M., Heritage Asia Magazine, Vol. 4, No.1 , January -March2007.


Bronze cannon amongst ballast stones.


Stoneware ewer with tube worms.


Bones from the salted meat stores.



Bronze cannon with lifting rings.


A row of stone cannon balls.


Coral on a stone cannon ball.


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