Ferguson Reef archaeology expedition – 18/19 November

Monday 18 November 2013

On Monday afternoon expedition team members from the Silentworld Foundation, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) and the Museum flew into Lizard Island 80 nautical miles north of Cairns to continue their search for the wreck of the Indian-built opium trader Morning Star (1814) and the Javanese-built merchant vessel Frederick (1818).

After carrying out the usual pre-trip safety checks (diving and fitness) the team departed Lizard Island on Monday evening heading for Wreck Bay off Stanley Island in the Flinders Group.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

After motoring overnight on board the expedition vessel Silentworld 2 the team arrived off Wreck Bay to be greeted by perfect diving conditions – with no wind and almost pancake flat seas.

In no time at all – with the dive tenders fuelled, the dive, survey and safety equipment checked and loaded and the divers briefed – the team was off to search and hopefully locate the remains of the Frederick which was driven onto a coral reef at the head of Wreck Bay in 1818.

Using magnetometer information obtained during a previous trip to Stanley Island in April this year – Frits from Seasee Pty ltd, Peter Illidge from GBRMPA and John Mullen from the Silentworld Foundation rigged up shot-lines (buoyed lines with heavy weights used to mark a target) and dropped them on the three most promising magnetic targets.

Because the team was searching in an area close to the mainland and possible in area visited or inhabited by saltwater crocodiles we first deployed a Remote Operated Vehicle (ROV) supplied by the Silentworld Foundation to search the area around the anomalies for any obvious magnetic material such as anchors, chain or cannon.

Unfortunately despite several hours of searching no obvious shipwreck material was observed from the ROV so now it was time to send in the divers but not before we carried out another essential safety check – the ‘Croc Watch’. So as the divers (Peter, John, Jacqui Mullen from the Silentworld Foundation and Kieran from the Museum) slowly assembled their equipment the two dive-tenders scouted the Bay for any sign of crocodile activity – such as mud slides, crocodile tracks on the beach, suspicious movements in the mangroves or in the water.

With an encouraging report back from the dive-tenders the first dive team (Peter and Kieran) entered the water armed with metal detectors and a billy stick (a metal bar used to push away any marine life that proved to be to inquisitive) and commenced searching the sea bed for any tell-tale signs that we were onto a shipwreck – such as splashes of green from the copper sheathing and ship’ fastenings, straight lines or circular shapes caused by the remains of the hull of ship’s fittings or fragments of glass, ceramic or coal.

As the divers worked below – linked to the surface by a safety line and surface marker buoy – the surface crew – Rob and Mary from the Silentworld Foundation, Frits and Xanthe Rivett the expedition photographer – continued the ‘croc watch’ with one dive tender patrolling the Bay searching for any suspicious signs whilst the other followed the divers and looked for any activity closer to the survey work.

Following Peter and Kieran’s dive – John and Jacqui entered the water and the procedure was repeated – until their bottom time was used up and they had to return to the surface.

Although no signs of the Frederick were observed during the first day’s work where optimistic that as the search area widens we will be able to locate the wreck.

Kieran Hosty

Manager – Maritime Archaeology

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