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Perhaps one of the better known shipwrecks off the coast of Mozambique was that of the São José. Above is an artist's rendition of how it might have looked like, and below is the shipwreck's history. In the months ahead we will be attempting to compile a list of ships which met their fate off the coast of Portuguese East Africa, and presenting their history :
São José History
In March 1622, a fleet of ships including the São José hastily departed Lisbon with an urgent mission. Bound for Goa, the capital of Portugal’s enormous overseas empire, the fleet carried Francisco da Gama, whose great-grandfather, the legendary Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama, was the first European to set foot in India via sea route. When the elder da Gama discovered Goa in 1498 it was the largest trading center on India’s western coast and would become Portugal's most important possession in its quest to control the spice trade. Now over a century later, da Gama’s great-grandson was returning to Goa to reign as the Viceroy of India under the unified Spanish and Portuguese crown.
The small Portuguese fleet, including its Almiranta, the São José, left the country in a hurry following reports that the British planned to take Hormuz, a Portuguese-occupied island ideally situated in the narrow strait between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. This strategic waterway served as the gateway of the spice trade to Arabia and the Levant and was the only sea route through the Persian Gulf to India. En route to Goa, the Portuguese fleet had plans to block the British aggression and deter the loss of this critical outpost.
The São José was a “carrack,” an immense sailing vessel distinguished by her huge stern castle towering high above the sea. Armed with brass cannon, she was typical of Portuguese ships sailing to the Far East, transporting ballast, passengers and the annual consignment of money to support trade with the East and Portuguese outposts along the trade routes. The São José was indeed carrying an impressive cargo, the legendary silver treasure of Philip III, King of Portugal, handed over to Francisco da Gama on his way to India. The shipment included nine chests filled with thousands of silver reales coins produced in both Old and New World mints.
The passengers aboard the São José ranged from nobility to “orphans of the king." The large vessel demanded a big crew which was comprised mostly of ex-convicts and the “low class.” In need of able-bodied man, Portugal was scraping the bottom of the human barrel to operate its many ships and offices of the empire.
After the São José and her fleet rounded the Cape of Good Hope, she proceeded up the well-traveled route along the East African coast into the Strait of Madagascar. The evening of 22 July, 1622, as the vessel sailed up the Mozambique Channel, a combined fleet of Dutch and British ships of the East India Company attacked the Portuguese flotilla. Trailing behind the others, the São José was cut off from the rest of the fleet and surrounded by the enemy which allegedly fired more shots into the embattled vessel than ever before recorded in a single-ship attack in the Indian Ocean. As fighting took place, the ship’s captain, senior officers and others had fallen ill and the commanding officer and pilot were killed.
Despite damage to her sails and spars, the São José remained afloat and navigable by late 23 July. The carrack attempted to escape the opposing fleet by sailing away from battle—a rare act in Portuguese naval warfare at the time. Fleeing toward the African coast, the great ship ran into a shoal that tore off her rudder. Now drifting at the mercy of wind and wave, failed attempts were made to control the enormous vessel. Anchors were dropped in vain and cannon thrown overboard to lighten the ship.
Despite these heroic efforts, the São José met her demise grounded on a reef off the Mozambique coast, victim to final assault by the Anglo-Dutch fleet. A reported 66,000 Spanish reales were salvaged by the enemy, a small share of the total treasure aboard the ship, lost with some 300-400 passengers and crew as the vessel broke up and sank to the bottom of the Mozambique Channel.
For nearly 400 years, the wreck of the São José remained hidden off the isolated coast of East Africa until her discovery in May 2005 by Portuguese marine archaeology company Arqueonautas.
The most extraordinary find are the over 24,000 silver reales coins recovered so far, representing a rare collection of Old and New World mints with a wide variety of dates and denominations—the stunning remains of King Philip III’s royal treasure once bound for India when Spain and Portugal together claimed a vast overseas empire.
(Above is from: http://www.saojoseshipwreck.com/sj/history.php)
Last edited by ZuluDiver; 10-03-2010 at 12:28 PM.
Many thanks for the great info about the Sao Jose. It's a beautiful carrack and it surely proved its seaworthyness by taking a beating after a fierce attack. Too bad it lost a rudder and met its demise on a reef off Mozambique. A viewer, Clem: email@example.com has asked for more information about wrecks off Mozambique. If you come across any other wrecks, please let us know. And, if any other viewers want info about various shipwrecks around the world, please write in. I will try to oblige. Viewer input is important too. Send in the results of your research! Thanks! Ellsworth Boyd Wreckmaster
Here's a picture of the freighter LICUMBO, photographed in 1996 and laying abandoned in Maputo Bay, Mozambique. This image was obtained from www.visible-shipwrecks.nl/album.php?album=12
Last edited by ZuluDiver; 10-07-2010 at 10:02 PM.
Many thanks for the excellent photos of the Licumbo sinking in Maputo Bay. I hope Clem is viewing this. He's the one who got the ball rolling. You do a terrific job of rounding up these neat photos! Thanks for anything more you can uncover in that area or the surrounding area. Ellsworth Boyd Wreckmaster (P.S.--Clem, are you there?)
Hi Mr. Boyd: You've challenged me to provide more information about shipwrecks off the coast of Mozambique. Since then I have been working at it, but the "instigator" (firstname.lastname@example.org) must understand that his question is rather broad:
(1) Mozambique's coast line is well in excess of 1,000 nautical miles, in the orientation North to South.
(2) The distance between Madagascar and Mozambique is approximately 550 nautical miles; that's from the Port of Beira (Moz) to the Port of Toliara in Madagascar.
(3) The body of water between Mozambique and Madagascar is called the Mozambique Channel. That's a lot of water...
All the same, I've accumulated material about shipwrecks in the above area. It seems recorded history starts after Vasco da Gama was able to connect Portugal with India in 1497/1498, with what later became known as the Maritime Route to India.
Much like the Spanish Galleons brought treasure from the Phillipines to Mexico, and from there to Spain via Cuba (The Treaty of Tordesillas dictated that they travel on the Pacific Ocean), the Portuguese did it with spices, silk, tapestries, chinese pottery, silver and gold purchased in India, which they carried on naus (carracks) along the Indian Ocean, round the Cape of Good Hope, bordering the West coast of Africa, heading North to deliver in Lisbon.
My list starts with named ships known to have wrecked during this period, and will include those that were sunk by torpedos during the 2nd World War, all the way to more recent disasters, such as the Licundo.
It might take a long time, but get ready for an interesting journey. Hopefully, the readers of this blog will like it and follow the updates.
Many thanks. You have done a nice job using your outstanding reseach skills. I will be eager to see what else you uncover. I think Clem and others will too.
Ellsworth Boyd Wreckmaster
Hi Mr. Boyd,
As promised, I've compiled a list of ships which wrecked off the coast of Mozambique. It is formatted as a Microsoft Excel(r) file, and is atached to this posting. The list is not, by any means, exhaustive nor complete. Much additional work needs to be done, but it should allow readers of this blog to fill in the blanks, add more shipwreck names, or correct and critique the work that has been done so far.
First, because the reference to "off the coast of Mozambique" covers a vast area, I've decided to offer some clarification in an effort to enlighten those who are interested in understanding why some ships are included in the list.
Mozambique's Indian Ocean coast (http://wikitravel.org/en/Mozambique) begins in the South at its border with South Africa (Kozi Baai/Ponta do Ouro), and snakes its way North 1,535 miles (2,470 Kilometers) to the Rovuma River, making it a natural border with the country of Tanzania.
http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/top...mbique_Channel). The channel is approximately 460 kilometers (approx 288 miles) across at its narrowest point between Angoche, Mozambique, and Tambohorano, Madagascar. The channel reaches a depth of 3,292 meters (10,800 feet) about 230 kilometers off the coast of Mozambique. A warm current flows in a southward direction in the channel, leading into the Agulhas Current. It is around 1000 miles (1600 kilometers) long, and the width of it varies from 250-600 miles (400-950 kilometers).
The area's weather is influenced by the monsoons; it is often ravaged by strong hurricanes and frequent storms. In past centuries, survivors from the many ships that foundered in these waters would elect to walk substantial distances to what they thought was the safety of Mozambique forts or townships; invariably, they would not venture inland from the approximate location of their wreck site for fear of the unknown: how they might be received, attacked or rejected by the local population. So, in the list of wrecks, many are included even though the actual site where the survivors came ashore may have been outside the boundaries of the Mozambique Channel.
I invite readers to send in contributions from their own research in the hopes of making this list more complete than it is now. Thank you.
Last edited by ZuluDiver; 10-31-2010 at 02:09 PM.
This is an excellent list. Thanks so much for your time and research. Your description of Mozambique's Indian Ocean coast is very enticing. Interesting how the area's weather has been influenced throughout the years by monsoons, hurricanes and storms--all targeting ships that sailed the coast. I hope readers will send in their contributions. Thanks again. Ellsworth Boyd Wreckmaster
I am looking for info of a wreck at Barra near Inhambane Mozambique.
It is about 50 - 100m of the shore in front of the lighthouse.
I own property there and I am very interested in the history of this ship.
Actual image of the Barra lighthouse.
An answer to your question is not possible without more specific information.
(1) If the wreck is located off shore in front of the lighthouse, does it mean that the debris field is scattered within a distance from 50 to 100 metres?
(2) Or does it mean that the wreck's remains start to be visible from 50 to 100 metres from the shore?
(3) Either way, this might suggest that the dimensions of such a shipwreck would be too large for a 14th, or 15th century ship. Have you examined the remains?
(4) What type of material did you find? Wood, or steel? Large pieces?
I read that there is an old wreck, located approximately 1 Km to the right of the Vaquita Beach Lodge at Praia da Barra, but I was not able to obtain its name or identify its position in relation to the lighthouse.
You might consider doing your own research. The Portuguese Hydrographic Institute reports there are 21 wrecks in the vicinity. You can order (15 euros subscription fee) their maritime charts by visiting http://www.wrecksite.eu/chartDetails.aspx?941.
Last edited by ZuluDiver; 07-13-2011 at 07:54 PM.