The lost wreck of De Haarlem, the Dutch trading ship that ran aground in Table Bay in 1647, may soon give up her secrets.
The South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) has given a marine archaeologist permission to start digging for the wreck at several spots along the Blaauwberg coastline.
Dr Bruno Werz, a former Dutch Navy diver, has spent almost 30 years hunting for the Dutch East India Company ship.
Sixty-two men from the crew of 120 survived the wreck and were stranded for a year in what is today Milnerton, before being rescued the following
year. This, says Dr Werz, influenced the Dutch decision to establish a permanent refreshment station at Cape Town in 1652.
Two weeks ago SAHRA granted Dr Werz a “disturbance permit” allowing him to do “limited probing and excavation” at several sites, including areas near the Dolphin Beach Hotel, along Bloubergstrand, close to Sunset Beach and the parking area at Rietvlei.
According to the SARHA website: “The moment sufficient evidence for the vessel’s location and identity is found, intrusive work will cease.”
Lesa la Grange, the acting manager of SAHRA’s maritime and underwater cultural heritage unit, said Dr Werz’s permit would become “null and void” for
a specific site if he found anything else of heritage value not linked to De Haarlem.
Also, Dr Werz may not remove anything from the sites.
Dr Werz said he was “elated” that after his long “and sometimes frustrating search” for De Haarlem, everything was finally coming together.
“I can’t think of any other shipwreck with such far-reaching consequences. De Haarlem was the motive behind the refreshment station in Cape Town and the beginning of positive contacts between the indigenous people and overseas contacts.”
Besides the SARHA, Dr Werz has had to also seek permission from the SA Revenue Service, adjacent land owners and the Iziko Museums. And he is waiting for approval from the Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning so he can take an excavator onto the beach.
“Once we find official evidence of the wreck, the first thing to do would be to protect the site. We’d call a press conference and have the site reopened for a few days for the public and interested parties to view. It is after all everybody’s history,” said Dr Werz.
He said there were a few “vital clues” that could help them pinpoint the wreck.
“When the ship was abandoned, it was set alight. It is also reported that they could not salvage 19 canons and four anchors.”
This week, Unisa published Dr Werz’s research on De Haarlem: The Haarlem Shipwreck (1647).
Dr Werz will also give two lectures in the Netherlands on the wreck, the first, later this month, in The Hague, and the second, early next month, in Haarlem, the Dutch city after which the ship was named.