MARITIME EXPLORATIONS
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RESEARCH

In depth research is invaluable, and can save a great deal of the time and money that would otherwise be spent on unnecessary electronic survey. Historical research is carried out in libraries and international archives, sometimes directly and sometimes through independent research consultants. Research is usually directed at locating an ancient shipwreck, although occasionally it is to identify a shipwreck that has already been found. The primary research aims are to pinpoint the wreck location, to determine the cargo, and perhaps most importantly, to determine whether or not the cargo has been salvaged, either by contemporaries or by modern salvors. Site specific research is conducted to determine operational constraints imposed by meteorological, oceanographic, and geographical conditions. Political research is conducted to determine whether a commercially viable license can be obtained in the country in which a particular shipwreck lies, and whether the government concerned is likely to abide by the terms of the license.

 

FUNDING

Depending on the commercial viability of a project and the degree of risk, Maritime Explorations may be willing to provide finance, or assist in raising finance. Shipwreck recovery projects are notoriously high risk, although that risk decreases as a project progresses. Staged funding is sometimes advisable, where the cost of funds decreases with risk. Finance is usually obtained from wealthy individuals with an interest in history and maritime archaeology. Alternatively, corporate sponsorship can be sought for archaeological projects with no commercial goal. Maritime Explorations would only offer project finance directly if given management control.

 

LICENSING

Over the years Maritime Explorations has directly or indirectly held licenses with Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Ties have also been established with the Philippines. Advice can therefore be offered on contract terms, percentages, disposition of artefacts, etc. In these times of heightened cultural awareness, it is becoming increasingly important to have maritime archaeological qualifications in order to obtain a license. Maritime Explorations can offer these, through university degrees, experience, publications, and academic work.

 

ELECTRONIC SURVEY

Having ascertained a target area of high probability through research, electronic survey equipment such as side-scan-sonar, magnetometer, sub-bottom profiler, stand-alone or differential GPS, metal detector, depth sounder, and ROV, must be deployed from a dedicated survey vessel in order to locate and verify a shipwreck. Side-scan-sonar and magnetometer are the primary remote detection tools. Maritime Explorations has successfully utilised side-scan and/or magnetometer to search for shipwrecks in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. The company currently owns and operates a Fisher SSS-100K Side-Scan-Sonar and a Geometrics G-877 Precision Proton Magnetometer. Through partners, Maritime Explorations also has access to an extensively equipped 25 metre aluminium Survey Catamaran.

 

WRECK ASSESSMENT

After a shipwreck is located it must be verified and assessed. Verification often involves dating, which can be determined from the stylistic analysis of ceramics, vessel construction techniques, coin dates, and radiocarbon analysis. Timber species identification is a useful tool in determining vessel origin. Having confirmed the target vessel, the archaeological and commercial value of the remains must be assessed. This is often done by digging test trenches across the site and extrapolating for cargo quantities. Maritime Explorations has the experience necessary to readily assess the archaeological and commercial value of a wide range of ceramic cargoes.

 

ENGINEERING

Engineering involves determining the best equipment to be used for survey or salvage. It often entails the modification of existing equipment, or the design and fabrication of new equipment, such as underwater dredging gear, lifting gear, diving systems, video and lighting gear, etc. Maritime Explorations specialises in water dredges, ranging from stainless steel devices driven by high pressure diesel pumps to PVC dredges driven by portable petrol fire pumps. A wide variety of diving systems for depths up to 75 metres can be assessed. Standard systems such as surface decompression on oxygen have often been used, but recent experience with in-water decompression on oxygen indicates that this is a viable option in tropical waters in the 35 m plus range. Nitrox can significantly increase bottom times and decrease decompression times in depths less than 35 m.

 

VESSEL MOBILISATION

Maritime Explorations has mobilised supply boats, tugs, and accommodation/dive support barges for most past projects. In Singapore, arguably the best place to mobilise in Southeast Asia, many contacts have been established for the supply of vessels, dive gear, decompression chambers, dive gasses, compressors, generators, air tuggers, porta-cabins, anchors, winches, stores, etc. Various shipyards can also be recommended. Deck layouts and logistics can be arranged worldwide.

 

SALVAGE / EXCAVATION

Salvage (usually referring to recovery work on relatively modern ships, such as those from World War II) and excavation (recovery work on older wooden wrecks) is usually undertaken from an accommodation/dive support barge with attendant tug, or a supply boat, although there are circumstances that call for low budget work from fishing boats. Maritime Explorations typically works with capable local crews, specifically in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. A labeled soft grid system is usually installed prior to excavation, with one diver and one dredge assigned to a single grid square. Systematic excavation can be readily controlled by this means. No area is missed, and no area is worked twice. Artefact locations can be easily mapped, and bulk cargo items, such as ceramics, can be simply computer logged by grid square.

 

CONSERVATION

Many artefacts must receive immediate first-aid conservation, or at least be stored in a suitable medium, or risk rapid degradation. Copper alloy artefacts can be stored dry, or in a sodium-sesquicarbonate solution. Iron must be stored in a caustic solution. Ceramics and glass cannot be allowed to dry out. Small organic items can be stabilised with acetone/rosin or PEG treatment. While many artefacts require professional conservation in well equipped laboratories, on-site conservation can be effective. Almost all non-ceramic artefacts from the Vung Tau Wreck were treated by Maritime Explorations on site, and remain in good condition to this day in the Vung Tau Museum.

 

ON-SITE DOCUMENTATION

Documentation involves the recording of shipwreck materials, artefacts and hull remains in-situ by means of physical observation, measurement, photography, video, and drawing. All artefacts are typically allocated a sequential number, grid reference, typology, and description for entry into a computer database such as Access. They can then by sorted and grouped at will in order to produce distribution plots, an excellent means of determining vessel layout, stowage patterns, and the wrecking process.

 

POST-PROJECT RESEARCH

Having completed field work, there is much scope for follow-up research. For an unknown wreck, identification can be the primary research aim. European wrecks can be identified through archival research. Asian wrecks of the pre-European period cannot be specifically identified as no records were kept, so research must be concentrated on identifying vessel type, origin, and age. Artefacts can be researched to determine their use and significance. The archaeological and commercial value of a shipwreck can be greatly enhanced by a thorough understanding of its historical context and relevance.

 

REPORTING / PUBLICATION

Publication is the end result of detailed research. Without publication and dissemination of information there is not much point in documenting a wreck. It can be scholarly publication in an international journal, or popular publication such as a coffee table book. In some instances publication is purely for the academic community, and in others it is to enhance the commercial value of the finds. Maritime Explorations has published extensively in both scholarly and popular mediums (see List of Publications).

 

MARKETING

Marketing strategy varies with the shipwreck cargo. Cargoes such as ceramics are often sold by auction houses such as Christie's and Sotherby's. Non-ceramic cargoes can sometimes be sold as complete collections by private treaty sale, and non-precious metal cargoes from more recent wrecks can be sold as scrap or directly to smelters. Maritime Explorations has dealt with all of these strategies. In almost all cases, a properly documented and authenticated shipwreck is most easily marketed.

 
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