Wreck’s future in the balance

The wrecked wooden hull of a ship that once starred in a Hollywood movie and which has become something of a landmark on the sandy skirt of the lagoon at Lagoon Beach may soon have a new and final resting place.

The wreck is all that is left of the Commodore II. The four-masted schooner built in America in the early 1900s.

The vessel was used as a set in the 1935 movie Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Clark Gable.

Later the vessel was used to ferry coal during World War II between South Africa and South America. When she was no longer of use, she was torched and the wreck floated ashore off Milnerton.

Something of a permanent fixture outside the Lagoon Beach Hotel, the wreck may soon find a new home if a group of property owners have their way.

On Monday September 26, they requested a permit from the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) to have the hull moved from the lagoon to “a grassed area alongside the paved walkway along the beachfront”.

Their motivation to SAHRA says: “This last surviving piece of a fairly famous ship is degrading every year.

“We wish to salvage it for the common good as an authentic part or maritime history close to Cape Town. We are property owners in the area and feel it will also enhance the area with an authentic artefact for historical and aesthetic reasons”.

According to an aerial shot attached to the proposal, the proposed display area will be the car park a few metres away from its current location.

John Gribble, manager of SAHRA’s maritime and underwater cultural unit, confirmed the request for the permit to move the hull onto an area adjacent to the walkway along the beach.

“There is some information we need from the applicant about the mechanics of how the move will be done and how the wreckage will be displayed and interpreted. We also need to make sure there’s an agreement in place to ensure that the wreck will remain publicly accessible.

We are planning to meet with the applicant next week to discuss these questions in detail.

The process of considering the application will flow on from that,” said Mr Gribble.

Given the “high public profile” of the wreckage, he said SAHRA would suggest to the applicant that there be some form of public consultation.

“As the remains of a wreck more than 60 years old, the Commodore forms part of what is defined as archaeological material under Section 2 of the National Heritage Resources Act (No. 25 of 1999) and is protected under Section 35 of the Act. As with any other archaeological material, the wreck belongs to the state, which through SAHRA protects and manages it on behalf of the nation,” said Mr Gribble.

If the permit is approved the applicants will bear the cost of moving the wreckage.

Tabletalk asked visitors to the lagoon what they thought of the proposal to move the wreck. Gary McBride grew up not far from the lagoon and feels the wreckage is part of Milnerton’s institution. He says “only the tides will tell” whether it should be moved or not.

“That piece of wood has been shifting around this area for as long as I can remember. I don’ think it should be removed. It’s part of the heritage,” said Mr McBride.

Michael Wyngaard, a Table View resident, also felt the wreckage should stay where it is.

“It wasn’t carried here. It arrived here on current which shows how powerful the current is. I think they should have some kind of plaque telling people a bit of its history. But I think once it’s moved, it loses its authenticity. We live in a real life time museum,” said Mr Wyngaard.

Jaco Boshoff, a marine archaeologist, supported the move. “It’s better than people trying to remove it and making furniture from it. That happened a while ago, but luckily residents chased them away. It’s better if it’s waterlogged, but there’s not much you can do about it unless you treat it with chemicals – that costs thousands, so preserving it by placing it in an area where it’s controlled is a good idea,” said Mr Boshoff.

Mr Gribble said although there are nearly 2500 documented historical shipwrecks around the South African coast, they are generally underwater and are very seldom visible or accessible to the public.

“This piece of wreckage from the Commodore thus has great value as an example of the remains of a wooden shipwreck that the public can access. SAHRA is excited about this initiative to move the wreckage as it will ensure the long-term survival of this piece of our maritime heritage and at the same time make this wreckage much more publicly accessible. We have suggested to the applicant that we could provide interpretive signage to be erected near the wreckage – something that will be discussed further as we proceed with the application,” he said.

Tabletalk asked Mr Briddle who the applicants were but he was not prepared to divulge that information. Instead, he said he would ask them to contact Tabletalk. However, we had yet to hear from them at the time this edition went to print.