The tiny North Sea island of Süderoog lies surrounded by drying sandbanks just a mile or two off Germany's north west coast. A century ago the writer Detlev von Liliencron looked out from the island at low tide and observed that it was encircled by wrecks protruding from the sands like “the ribs of dead camels in the desert”. But in recent times travellers to Süderoog, have seen nothing but sand and mud when visiting the island.
Germany's treacherously tidal North Sea coast is peppered with an estimated 800 wrecks but most were thought to have been forever swallowed up by the sands. But a steady eastward shift of the sand banks, which has been observed since 2005, has now started to uncover wrecks thought lost for eternity.
Last week marine archaeologists found the remains of no fewer than three ships. One was a wooden cargo ship dating from around 1700, another the ribs of an unidentified steel freighter and the third, what's left of the Spanish three-masted sailing ship, the Ulpiano, which was wrecked on the sands on an icy Christmas eve in 1870 while on its maiden voyage from Cádiz. Its 12 crew members were rescued by the islanders, but surrounding ice floes trapped them on Suderoog for 10 weeks before they could reach the mainland.
The Ulpiano's figurehead was salvaged and has been in the local maritime museum for decades. Now the rusting remains of the ship itself have been laid bare for all to see. But not for long – the archaeologists say it is only a matter of time before the sands reclaim her.