The Rooswijk
An account of its loss in 1740 on the Goodwin Sands

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Goodwin Sands Silver

By David Chamberlain


The Rooswijk foundering off the Goodwins

Captain Daniel Ronzieres was not overtly distrustful; he was merely obeying company rules as the boxes, containing thousands of silver bars, were stowed neatly and securely in his cabin. Along with the bullion, over 36,000 silver coins in similar boxes joined the hoard. As each chest was being checked against the manifest the rest of the less valuable cargo was being loaded into the holds of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) ship Rooswijk.

The Dutch port of Texel had been busy with other VOC ships, although the three-year-old Rooswijk was deemed to be the largest. Most of the cargo that was being stowed below her decks was mundane. Sheet copper, masonry blocks, cases of sabres and other weapons were being taken to establish and maintain the forces and buildings in the Dutch East Indies Company headquarters at Batavia, South East Asia.

In that year of 1740 it seemed that the eastern continent had no need for European goods. However, their spices, porcelain and silks were in demand and fetched excellent prices. It was because of these circumstances that the VOC ships had to carry vast amounts of specie, with which to purchase their produce.

The ingots of silver were originally mined from Spanish-held Mexico and then sold to the Dutch to be melted down into four pound bars with the Amsterdam VOC stamp upon each one. The ingots would have been converted in Batavia - now Jakarta - into Javanese currency with the rest shipped off to Siam (Thailand) and Bengal to be made into their local coinage.

Inside some of the bonded boxes were thousands of silver eight reales, along with roughly cut and stamped cobs. These coins - about the size of a British crown - were known and used throughout the world as 'pieces of eight'. The silver content, which was also mined and minted in Spanish Mexico, contained a regular 26.5 grams of .903 fine silver.

As the hatches on Rooswijk's cargo holds were covered with canvas and secured with rope, Captain Ronzieres' thoughts were with the voyage ahead. They were not of the fear from pirates or privateers as the ship carried a formidable amount of cannon and a crew of 250 men, which included soldiers, but of the adverse weather.

It was the beginning of January and a bitterly cold north-east wind had set in. As they set sail on the 8th the wind increased to gale-force. The relatively calm confines of Texel were soon behind them as the off-shore wind rapidly reached storm force. All that day and night they fought against the elements. When darkness fell the following night, further vision was obliterated by a blizzard. Daniel Ronzieres' men found working the pitching and rolling 850 ton ship extreme and hazardous. They were continually making sail changes to the vessel as she tacked back and forth making for the open sea and away from the shallow Dutch shoals.

While the night wore on conditions became worse and navigation impossible. In the thick weather Ronzieres had lost his bearings as the ship was being driven further westward by the wind. He calculated that he could not beat up against it and reduced his sails to a minimum. The captain had no idea what part of the English Channel they were in; however, the constant sounding of the lead showed that he had plenty of water under the keel. He also considered that it was too deep for the ship to anchor and wait for the storm to abate.

Most of the soldiers were being sick and trying to hold on to anything that was secure in their restricted quarters. Freezing condition permeated throughout the vessel and all the cooking fires had been extinguished soon after they had left port. Those below decks were becoming hyperthermic and, with sea-sickness, were losing the will to live. The seamen were too busy to succumb to this malady and merely cursed the weather - although the least courageous of them were starting to realise the desperate state that their ship was in. Apart from her billowing sails the rest of the Rooswijk was covered in snow, building up in small drifts on the windward side of her bulwarks. Footprints on the deck from the crew were soon covered, as the ship careered along with the storm.

As the vessel ran up on to the Goodwin Sands the crew and troops felt the ship jolt to a halt and then start to slew uncontrollably, beam on to the heavy seas. Immediately, tumultuous waves overwhelmed her and giant seas crashed down upon the deck, sweeping away any persons that were still standing. The masts were wrenched out of the steps in her keelson, splintering and ripping up the deck. Within minutes the heavily laden Dutch East Indiaman was gripped by the sand and started to break up, as the massive seas pulverized her to pieces. The deaths of the entire crew and troops were almost instantaneous. They were drowned in the freezing conditions and their screams for salvation went unheeded.

Morning arrived with the storm still blowing. Deal boatmen, unable to launch their boats in the heavy surf, wandered the beach in search of any scraps that the onshore wind had blown in. It was soon evident to the men that there had been a shipwreck in the night. However, the pieces of washed up timbers were so smashed up that they could not identify the unfortunate vessel. When one man came upon a chest, surging about in the surf, he eagerly risked becoming drenched as he snatched it from the waves.

On being opened, a look of disappointment clouded his face. In the casket were vast amounts of waterlogged letters written in a foreign hand. When the honest fellow handed the mail in to the authorities, the name of the ill-fated ship was then discovered. The loss, to the Dutch company, was a great one, financially, as well as in human terms.

In the year 2002, Ken Welling, an Essex builder, had worked out an area on the Goodwin Sands where the wreck of the Rooswijk might have been. This was achieved after many hours of research and deduction from English newspapers of the 18th century and Dutch archives. In the years that followed he searched, with the limited amount of equipment he could tow from his 17ft boat, on and around the hostile waters of the Goodwin Sands. His quest would always be fraught with danger; as when he found wreckage protruding from the seabed, he would dive upon it alone.

With the shifting sandbanks of the Goodwins he knew there was always going to be a chance that the wreck would never reappear.

Eventually, in the summer of 2004, he found what he had been looking for. It started off as just another bottom target on the echo sounder, although his magnetometer showed that there was a vast amount of metal causing the machine to peak. Whilst diving on these new wrecks he was always hopeful; nevertheless, he was used to disappointment. Over the years he had found many old rotting timbers on the seabed which he could eliminate from his search. When he found some cannons amongst the timbers, he was soon to realise that this was a wreck of status. Further exploration showed that there were chests, although worn, still intact. When he prised the top off one of them he saw the glint of silver. At last his vision had been fulfilled.

During 1798 the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was taken over by the Dutch Government who, to this day, is still the legal owner of all treasures that were lost from the VOC ships. Ken made contact with a representative and, in total secrecy, they arranged for the bullion to be recovered.

Through the dive season of 2005, from July until late August, the 209 ton salvage vessel Terrschelling appeared on the sky line off Deal. The Terrschelling was skippered by Nigel J Boston, who, along with his team of professional divers, was very skilled in the art of recovering old and valuable relics - in the past the vessel had spent numerous periods on the wreck-site of the Mary Rose. Also aboard was the eminent underwater archaeologist Alex Hildred and it was she who oversaw and catalogued over a thousand artefacts. Amongst these objects were the personal items of the crew; from the officers mess deck, pewter plates, glass wine goblets and a pewter mustard pot with a spoon still in it. A huge copper cauldron from the galley and fifty muskets from the Master at Arms' cabin were rescued. For Alex, all these artefacts were making a social statement from the 18th century.

Although the vessel could be seen from Deal and Ramsgate there was, apart from a few inquisitive fishermen, little interest in her goings on. It was certainly unknown, to the majority, that she was salving a vast fortune of silver, which had lain on the Goodwins for 265 years.

Four months later some of the treasure was handed over to Holland's government finance minister, Joop Wijn. He accepted it, along with many artefacts destined for Dutch museums, aboard the Dutch Royal Navy frigate De Ruyter, at Plymouth in a ceremony of entente cordiale. Because of the tragedy in 1740 the silver bullion never reached its destination. However, it was not completely lost when the Goodwins released its centuries old secret location - thanks to the determination and dedication of diver, Ken Welling.


Some of the wine bottles recovered from the wreck 36,000 pieces of eight were on board
The Real de a Ocho, also known as the Spanish dollar, the Eight Royals Coin, or the Piece of Eight (Spanish Peso de Ocho), is a silver coin, of approximately 38 mm diameter, worth eight Spanish reales, that was minted in the Spanish Empire after 1598.

Copyright © David Chamberlain 2016

Footnote: More stories of ancient shipwrecks on the Goodwin Sands can be found in David Chamberlain's book "Lost And Found" available from local bookshops (at £3.99) and online from eBay and Amazon.

Rooswijk

Historic England

This site is designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 as it is or may prove to be the site of a vessel lying wrecked on or in the sea bed and, on account of the historical, archaeological or artistic importance of the vessel, or of any objects contained or formerly contained in it which may be lying on the sea bed in or near the wreck, it ought to be protected from unauthorised interference. Protected wreck sites are designated by Statutory Instrument. The following information has been extracted from the relevant Statutory Instrument.

Summary of Site

The remains of a Dutch East Indiaman which foundered towards the north-eastern end of the Kellet Gut, after grounding on the Goodwin Sands, in 1739. At the time of loss she was bound from Amsterdam and the Texel to Jakarta with coin, bullion and a general cargo, including sheet copper, sabre blades and stone blocks, as well as passengers.

History

The Rooswijk is a vessel of the Dutch East Company (VOC) built in 1737 which stranded on the Goodwin Sands in 1739 while en route from the Texel to the East Indies. The vessel is described as a 'retourschip', a specific type of Dutch East Indiaman which was designed to withstand the lengthy voyages of 18 months to three years typically undertaken en route to Batavia (Indonesia). The site was found after several years of documentary research and following a magnetometer survey of the site.

Designation History

Designation Order: No 61, 2007 Made: 13th January 2007 Laid before Parliament: 17th January 2007 Coming into force: 9th February 2007 Protected area: 150 metres within 51 16.443 N 001 34.537 E. No part of the restricted area lies above the high-water mark of ordinary spring tides.

Documentary History

Built in 1737 in Amsterdam for the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch East India Company, the Rooswijk was lost on the Goodwin Sands one day out from the Texel on her second voyage to the Indies in January 1739. Her previous voyage had been to Batavia (Jakarta). The day following her departure from the Texel, the Rooswijk is recorded as being wrecked with all hands and troops. "A great many pieces of wreck and packets of letters, all directed to Batavia, have been taken up." Many pieces of wreckage were found floating in the Downs. There were numerous newspaper reports on her loss, including the London Written Letter: "We had this morning an account from Deal of a Dutch East India Ship outward bound, being ashore on the Goodwin Sands; and this afternoon it was reported to be lost, and all her crew." Contemporary newspapers record "the violent storm of wind, etc. which has held for two days past, has done considerable damage to shipping lying in the River (Thames) …"

It therefore appears from sources that the vessel was caught up initially in an easterly storm which afflicted the eastern coast of England from north to south. This would have driven her directly onto the Goodwin Sands on her outward-bound passage from Amsterdam, and the "contrary winds" mentioned in some sources would have caused her to shift on the sands. In turn this would have contributed to the ship breaking up rapidly, consistent with the wreckage and mail being all the clues left to her loss, together with the total loss of life. Doubtless, however, the severe cold also contributed to the total loss of the crew.

Prior to 1752, the New Year fell on 25th March. The date of loss therefore probably occurred circa 30 December 1739.

Archaeological History

A sport diver found the remains of the Rooswijk after extensive documentary research and magnetometer survey. The discovery was kept secret to enable the recovery of bullion. In December 2005, silver found aboard the wreck was handed over to the Netherlands Finance Minister, representing the Dutch Government as heirs to the Dutch East India Company, having taken the company over in 1798. Dutch archaeologists expressed regret that they had not been part of the salvage operation.

The seabed consists of fine-grained, mobile sand with broken shell. Some small patches of stones were observed in areas of scouring around upstanding wreck material. Small sand waves have been recorded in all areas searched, separated by small hollows.

The salvage of the Rooswijk prior to designation is believed to have recovered more than 1,000 artefacts including a musket stock; 2 musket side plates marked "VOC"; a musket trigger plate; two wooden chests and lids; 21 ebony knife handles; 2 concreted knives; a Mexican pillar dollar; 553 silver ingots marked "VOC"; a tobacco tin; a huntsman's sword hilt; a gilt sword hilt; a sword scabbard belt hook; part of a leather scabbard; a brass wine pot with a missing leg; a pistol stock; a cutlass handle; a cutlass scabbard; a copper alloy cauldron; and 3 stoneware vessels.

The floor timbers collapsed following the wreck and the contents of each deck fell on top of each other, reflecting the physical and social layers of shipboard life. The top layer therefore included items from the officers' dining room, including pewter dinner plates and a mustard pot, wine glasses, a copper cauldron, brass candlesticks and a box of eye glasses.

The silver bullion was also found in this area in 4 lb bars, having been mined in Mexico, and sold on to the Amsterdam Chamber of the VOC, whose imprint is on the bars of silver, for use in the coinage of Batavia.

The layer immediately underneath comprised the contents of the ship constable's cabin. As he was responsible for the maintenance of law and order on board, 50 muskets were found in the area. Beneath this again was the vessel's 'cartridge locker' containing bar and round shot, while three cannon and a gun port were located in an area thought to represent part of the gun deck.

A pair of Frechen mugs, dated 1550 - 1600, was located within the site and represented an anomaly, possibly indicating that there is wreckage from more than one vessel on this site, although it could be that, owing to their robust nature and widespread use, they were still in use on a vessel such as the Rooswijk in 1739.

The Maritime Museum in Vlissingen will house objects recovered from this wreck and handed over to the Dutch.


Experts work on wreck of 18th century Dutch ship Rooswijk at Goodwin Sands near Deal

East Kent Mercury, Friday 18th August 2017

Maritime archaeologists are at the Goodwin Sands diving, excavating and recording the wreck site of an 18th century ship. And details of their finds can be learned at an open day tomorrow. To book a place email education@nauticalarchaeologysociety.org or telephone 023 9281 8419.

The international team is working on the Dutch merchant ship Rooswijk, which sank in the area in 1740. The ship was heading for Batavia (modern-day Jakarta in Indonesia) with a large cargo of silver ingots and coins. It is now a protected wreck site and the ships' remains are owned by the Dutch government. The site is managed by Historic England. The current #Rooswijk1740 project is led and financed by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, part of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science.

The archaeologists are working on the site at Goodwin throughout the summer. The Rooswijk is threatened by currents and shifting sands and an exploratory study of the wreck last year confirmed the need for this excavation. The site is classed as high risk on the Heritage 'at Risk register' due to its exposed remains and vulnerability. Alison James, maritime archaeologist at Historic England, said:

"Wrecks such as the Rooswijk are time capsules that offer a unique glimpse into the past and tell a story. Sharing that story with a wide audience is a key part of this project and we look forward to the fascinating insights and discoveries that the Rooswijk excavation will uncover this summer."

Martijn Manders, excavation project leader and maritime heritage programme manager at the CHA, said:

"The Goodwin Sands has been a treacherous place for ships throughout the centuries and is now a treasure trove for archaeologists. The rapidly shifting sands mean that the site is even more exposed now than it was during our initial dives to assess the condition of the Rooswijk last year. This makes the excavation urgent."

There are a total of 250 DEIC shipwrecks, only of which a third have been located. Never before has a DEIC wreck been scientifically researched or excavated on this scale.

Material recovered from the wreck site is being taken ashore to a warehouse in Ramsgate for preservation and recording. The finds will be returned to the Netherlands and in future some material may be made available for display in Ramsgate. There will be two open days in Ramsgate with two sessions each, 10am and 2pm, tomorrow and on Saturday, 16th September. Visitors will be able to see the finds and explore the techniques and technology the archaeologists are using.


New evidence reveals Goodwin Sands shipwreck's secrets

BBC, Wednesday 25th July 2018

Crew members of a ship which sank off the Kent coast more than 275 years ago have been identified. Researchers used archive documents to name 19 of the 237 shipmen who were on board the Dutch ship the Rooswijk. Among them were a senior surgeon, a 19-year-old on his first voyage and a sailor who had previously survived a shipwreck.

The vessel, which was carrying coins and silver ingots, sank on Goodwin Sands in January 1740. More than a thousand vessels are known to have been wrecked on the notorious sandbanks, dubbed "the great ship swallower".

Meanwhile, coins have been recovered from the shipwreck that were not part of the sanctioned cargo. Archaeologists say this suggests some of the Rooswijk's passengers were carrying silver to trade illegally. Some coins had holes deliberately made in them - an indication the crew sewed them into their clothes to smuggle to the Dutch East Indies.


Black Market Bounty: Experts Find Coins Sewn into Clothes at Shipwreck

Ancient Origins, Monday 30th July 2018

Maritime archaeologists have made an astonishing discovery off the Kent coast in England. While investigating an almost three-hundred-year-old shipwreck they found some coins that had been sewn into clothing. This is the second important maritime archaeological find in Kent, recently. A Tudor ship was also found on some mudflats in Tankerton Beach some weeks ago. The latest discovery is one that is exciting experts and offering an insight into the lives of ordinary people in the 18th century, demonstrating the rich maritime heritage of Kent.

The Rooswijk

The find was made near the wreck of the Rooswijk on the bed of the English Channel. Both the crew and the ship descended to the bottom of the sea off the coast of Kent, sinking after striking a notorious sandbank, Goodwin Sands, that the BBC reports it is known as 'the great ship swallower'. The Rooswijk sank in the winter of 1740 and all its 237 passengers and crew were lost. The ship's cargo of silver bullion, iron, and cut stones, that was destined for the East Indies, was also lost.

Experts know a lot more about this ship than the remains of the Tudor vessel found at Tankerton Beach. The ship belonged to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) that controlled much of modern Indonesia at this time. It set off with a cargo of silver to purchase spices and other luxury goods in Batavia, the capital of the Dutch East Indies. The ship was skippered by Daniƫl Ronzieres and was crewed by Dutch, German and Swedish sailors, some of whom have been identified through the VOC archives in Amsterdam.

A profitable exchange

Maritime archaeologists, members of the Rooswijk1740 project, discovered a haul of silver coins some 85 feet down on the seabed. Many of the silver coins had holes drilled so that they could be sewn into clothing. There were not only Dutch coins but also ducats from the Spanish Netherlands. But why were they secreted in clothing in this manner ? The answer would seem to be that these monies would have been prohibited from being taken to the Dutch Indies.

The discovery of coins hidden in clothes and also prohibited foreign currency suggests that the crew and passengers were engaged in smuggling to the East Indies. There was a great demand for silver in the colonies and the speculation is that the passengers and mariners were trying to make a profit by selling the silver coins for higher than their face value in Batavia, the capital of the East Indies. The coins were probably sewn into the clothes of those on board to ensure that they were not detected during regular onboard inspections. Historians have long known that there was an illicit trade in silver in the Dutch company's possessions and believe that up to 50% of the money being transported to the East Indies was smuggled.

The history unravels piece by piece

Some other artifacts have also been uncovered in the wreck, including a pewter jug. Two small human bones have also been identified and it is believed that there will be more remains found at the site. Personal items have also been uncovered and these include a nit comb and a container for cheese. Several well-preserved boxes and barrels have also been found by marine archaeologists.

The Rooswijki1740 project is a partnership between Historic England and the Netherland's Cultural Agency. According to the Daily Mail, the leader of the project, Dr. Martijn Manders has said that, "The Rooswijk is special because it tells us about ordinary people of that time". The find also helps experts to understand the personal experiences of those who were lost at sea on a January night, almost three centuries ago.

The team from the project have been working on the site since last summer. According to the Daily Mail, "the team is working towards the stern of the ship" and expect more finds. Items and materials recovered from the wreck are being stored at a warehouse in Kent, where they will be preserved and recorded. It is expected that some of the most interesting items will eventually be put on public display in the Netherlands.

A thriving black market

The discovery of the coins sewn into clothing confirms that many employees of the VOC were engaged in illegal activities and that it was almost certainly extensive. Just like today, trade in currency could be profitable. The silver coins are also allowing us to understand ordinary people and their experiences almost three hundred years ago. The second important find in Kent, in recent weeks, is demonstrating the rich maritime archaeological heritage of that area of England.


Thousands of Rooswijk artefacts to be scanned using new X-ray equipment to reveal hidden details

Daily Mail, 30th June 2020

The Rooswijk sank en route to Batavia after running aground on the Goodwin Sands. Objects recovered from her wreck include silver ingots, thimbles and chests. Many of these will be imaged in Historic England's upgraded X-ray facility. A £150,000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation will see the scanners revamped.

Thousands of artefacts recovered from the wreck of a Dutch East India Company sailing ship will be scanned using new X-ray equipment to reveal hidden details. The Rooswijk - a so-called 'retourschip' built for long journeys - sank off of the coast of Kent in January 1740 after running aground on Goodwin Sands. Archæologists visited the wreck and recovered many artefacts - including silver coins and ingots, wooden chests and a brass wine pot - between 2005 and 2018. Many of these items will now be examined in greater detail thanks to a £150,000 grant from the Wolfson Foundation to update Historic England's X-ray facilities.

Originally destined for Batavia - modern-day Jakarta - the merchant ship Rooswijk sank around 5 miles (8 kilometres) off the British coast on its second voyage to the East, with none of its believed 237-strong crew surviving the accident. Its wreck was first discovered at a depth of 79 feet (24 metres) by an amateur diver back in 2004 with the bulk of recovery efforts taking place between 2005 and 2018, with the objects from the vessel legally belonging to the Dutch state. Among the artefacts recovered from the wreck were bars of silver, gold coins, knives, scabbards, human remains, pots, jars and thimbles.

The grant from the Wolfson Foundation charity will be used to upgrade the power and resolution of the equipment at at Historic England's large, walk-in X-ray facility for scientific and archæological analysis at Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth. The existing facility has been at that centre of the organisation's archæological assessment, analysis and conservation work. When the upgrade is complete, Rooswijk artefacts will be among the first to be scanned by the revamped facility, in a collaboration between Historic England and Rijksdienst voor het Cultureel Erfgoed, the Netherlands' cultural heritage agency. Many of the finds from the wreck are covered with hard concretions of matter that will require the extra power of the new equipment to be successfully scanned.

Said Historic England head Duncan Wilson: "This generous investment will place Historic England at the forefront of heritage X-radiography for many years to come. With this new technology, we will be able to analyse, conserve and better understand many more objects recovered from historic shipwrecks or excavated from archaeological sites. We are very grateful to The Wolfson Foundation for their support to this vital grant. The new X-ray machinery will also 'greatly improve' the analysis of Roman-era artefacts as the scanner will be able to penetrate dirt and debris build-ups around such objects without the risk of damaging them."

"We are excited to support this important piece of equipment bringing together Wolfson's longstanding interests in science and heritage. The beauty of X-ray technology is the way in which it reveals hidden secrets of the past as well as helping with conservation. We are particularly delighted to be supporting the heritage sector at this challenging moment for us all." said Wolfson Foundation chief executive Paul Ramsbottom.


Thousands of artefacts recovered from the wreck of a Dutch East India Company sailing ship, depicted above,
will be scanned using new X-ray equipment to reveal hidden details

Archæology bombshell: 18th century shipwreck and crew found in 'underwater Pompeii'

Daily Express, Tuesday 27th October 2020

Archæologists were stunned when they discovered crew from an 18th century shipwreck in what they described as an 'underwater Pompeii'.

The Dutch merchant ship was found by marine archæologists having languished off the coast of Ramsgate in Kent. The ship, named The Rooswijk, sank in bad weather in January 1740 on just her second voyage. It was first discovered by a diver in 2005. But after preliminary excavations it was covered up. But in 2016, Historic England and the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency warned that the vessel was in danger of being destroyed by an invasive shipworm, which began moving to British coastlines from the Mediterranean.

The archæologists' research uncovered three wooden treasure chests, believed to contain a fortune in silver ingots bound for the East Indies. More chilling however, they found bones belonging to the crew who were aboard the downed wreck. As well as sailors, researchers said there would have been soldiers protecting the precious cargo, children, wives, and even 'guests of the lower decks' - a polite term for prostitutes.

Around 250 people in total were on board when the ship sank and it is thought none survived. Mark Dunkley, a marine archæologist for Historic England, said:

"With the finds that we're bringing up we're seeing how they lived on board, and now with the remains we are seeing how they died as well. They were probably drowned or crushed as the ship collapsed or the cannons came loose and rolled across the decks. We have started finding and recovering bodies. It's a highly significant assemblage because it is so rare to find a lost crew on a shipwreck, captured in time at the moment when a catastrophe happened. In that sense it's like an underwater Pompeii."

As the concerns surrounding invasive ship worm intensified, Mr Dunkley said the crew needed to work quickly to learn as much as possible about the vessel. He added:

"The ship is threatened by a new type of ship worm which has come from the Mediterranean Sea and is moving north because the sea around Britain is getting warmer with climate change. It's reached as far north as Felixstowe so any shipwreck below that latitude is threatened by it. It burrows into any wood which speeds up decay and makes the wrecks vulnerable. It attacks the timbers and wooden chests. So it's important that we start conserving these things now to prevent any more damage."

The Rooswijk was owned by the Dutch East India Company and was bound for Jakarta to trade silver and copper for pepper, nutmeg and porcelain when it sank. Soon after the ship was found, a chest containing letters washed up at Deal in Kent. It identified the captain as Daniel Rousiers, and named around a dozen other crew. However, the identities of the rest of the victims were lost in time.


Plans to dredge notorious 'ship swallower' sandbank condemned

The Guardian, Thursday 29th October 2020

Removal of millions of tonnes of material from Goodwin Sands, the watery grave of hundreds of ships in the English Channel, would make a mockery of marine protection pledges, critics say.

Six miles off the coast of Deal, in Kent, lies Goodwin Sands, a 10-mile sandbank known as the 'ship swallower'. Seals bask there at low tide, belying its reputation as one of the most treacherous spots in the Channel and a graveyard for centuries-old shipwrecks, as well as downed aircraft from the second world war.

Now the site has become central to another battle, by conservationists and campaigners, to safeguard Britain's seas from damaging activities and to hold the government to account on its '30 x 30' pledge to protect 30% of marine habitats by 2030.

Goodwin Sands was awarded marine protected area (MPA) status by the government last year due to its biodiversity and unique habitats. But despite its status and fervent opposition by local conservationists, archæologists and historians, millions of tonnes of sand and gravel are about to be dredged from the site, as part of plans to extend the port of Dover.

Conservationists, who failed in a legal bid last year against the Marine Management Organisation's decision to grant Dover Harbour Board (DHB) a dredging licence for the site, say the impending extraction is further evidence that MPAs are 'useless' and fail to protect Britain's seas.

Earlier this month the Guardian revealed that bottom trawling and dredging, the most destructive type of fishing on sea floor habitats, were happening in 71 out of 73 UK offshore MPAs, making a mockery of their 'protected' status.

Goodwin Sands Conservation Trust is now lobbying the government to award the area greater protection, so that further dredging will not happen. It is backed by the Tory MP for Dover, Natalie Elphicke, as well as Dover district council. Joanna Thomson, the trust's chair, said:

"This is an iconic piece of our maritime history and an important ecological site. What's the point of an MPA if it offers no protection from dredging? There needs to be greater protections for our marine sites."

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) said that the area's protected status was considered in the dredging application, and that significant environmental impact was 'unlikely' if several mitigation measures included in the licence are followed. Other conditions include exclusion zones and the requirement to have an on-board archæologist who will be responsible for checking material dredged. But conservationists are adamant there should be no dredging within an MPA at all. Melissa Moore, of Oceana, said:

"The MMO have failed to protect the habitats of the marine protected area. We need a clear government policy that all damaging activities will be swiftly halted in MPAs if we are to reach 30 x 30 targets."

Jean-Luc Solandt, specialist in MPAs at the Marine Conservation Society, said:

"The MMO contends that such dredging won't have a significant effect. Yet it will take larval fish, it will kill sand eels. It will take some fauna living on and in the sediment. Shrimps, worms and echinoderms will be damaged and killed. This will upset the food chain. What are our MPAs for if such aggregate extraction, fish trawling and dredging is permitted within them? They are predominantly useless."

Elphicke said that while little can be done to prevent the current dredging licence, she has pressed the government to give 'marine blue belts' greater long-term protection in law. She said:

"The Goodwin Sands are a special part of our environment and should be afforded greater recognition and protection."

Elphicke wants the sands to become one of five pilot highly protected marine areas where dredging and other damaging activities are banned, as recommended in a review published in June. The government has not yet responded to the review, which acknowledged that MPAs, in their current form, do not not give the protection necessary to allow marine ecology to recover.

The harbour board has said that 51 conditions attached to the dredging licence will protect the site's environment, archaeology, war graves and the wider historic environment. But not everyone is convinced.

Dan Pascoe, a maritime archeologist, diver and the licensee of two of the area's' six wreck sites protected by Historic England, said that the shifting sands were constantly covering and uncovering their secrets. The Rooswijk, a Dutch East India ship that foundered in 1740 with the loss of almost 250 lives and now lies nearby, was once under 10 metres of sand. Seven years ago a Dornier bomber, shot down during the battle of Britain, was lifted out of the Goodwins almost intact.

"Shipwrecks are covered up and uncovered by the constantly shifting sands," said Pascoe. "Who knows what else they could find down there? Dredging is quite a brutal extraction process, they suck and suck and only stop if something is jammed. Wooden structures get turned into matchsticks."

A spokesperson for the MMO said that the dredging licence was the subject of three public consultations and it 'remains satisfied' that its decision complies with relevant policies. The spokesperson said:

"We understand the strength of feeling surrounding this development, both for and against. As a regulator that has to balance and manage competing uses of the marine environment, we accept that not everyone will be happy with the decisions we make."

The owner of the Sands is the Crown Estate, which now stands to gain from the extraction. Asked why it had not objected to the dredging plans, given its previous opposition to wind farms on the grounds of risk to maritime archæology and the possibility of disturbing human remains, a spokesman replied:

"Offshore wind development and aggregate extraction have very different implications for the seabed, with offshore wind requiring a much larger area (100 sq kilometres or more) and deeper foundations." The spokesperson refused to disclose how much the Crown Estate would benefit from the extraction: "This agreement is commercial in confidence. We are tasked with generating profit for the Treasury for the benefit of the nation's finances."


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