Baltic yields 'perfect' wreck of 17th-century sailing ship

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The Independent Online

A wooden sailing ship from the 17th century has been discovered almost intact in the Baltic Sea. The vessel is believed to be the best-preserved of its type ever seen.

It was found by a Swedish television crew preparing to film an underwater documentary series, The Wreck Divers. The ship, which is 22ft wide and 65ft long, was found in clear water, at a depth of 410ft, near Gotska Sandon island, off the south-east coast of Sweden.

Morten Manders, a marine archaeologist, said he was overwhelmed by the condition of the two or three-masted vessel. "You can hardly call this a shipwreck," he added.

Underwater footage of the boat, which is believed to have been a Dutch trading ship, was screened by the Swedish state broadcaster SVT on Thursday. It showed an almost intact hull and carved figureheads near the ship's wheel.

Madeleine Sinding-Larsen, a spokeswoman for SVT, said: "It was just standing there on the seabed, almost as if it has just dropped down from the surface."

It is thought the wreck could be from the same era as the warship Vasa, which capsized and sank just a mile into its maiden voyage on 10 August 1628. Built as a flagship man-of-war for King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, the Vasa was raised in 1961 and is exhibited today at the Vasa Museum, one of Stockholm's main tourist attractions.

Malcolm Dixelius, the executive producer of The Wreck Divers, said the relatively low oxygen level and temperature in the Baltic had helped to preserve the boat relatively unscathed.

The wreck was found in 2003 using underwater robots but it was only in May this year, during the making of the documentary series, that it was fully explored with a remotely operated submarine and a video camera.

SVT did not say whether there were similar plans to raise the wreck, whose features resembled the work of Dutch shipbuilders from the period. "Experts who have studied video of the ship conclude it is probably the best-preserved ship ever seen from this period," the station said. It delayed the announcement of the discovery until Thursday to coincide with the series.

The Baltic is as an ideal environment for conserving shipwrecks, which can remain virtually unblemished for hundreds of years.