Ship that raised Song dynasty vessel to help recover tugboat

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 March, 2008, 12:00am

The floating derrick Hua Tian Long, which will on Friday join the salvage effort for a tugboat sunk off Tuen Mun, played a key role in one of the greatest underwater archaeological projects.

The vessel - the biggest of its kind in Asia with a lift power of 4,000 tonnes - raised a porcelain-laden ship that sank off Yangjiang, Guangdong, 800 years ago.

The wooden wreck - 30.4 metres long and 9.8 metres wide, and dating to the early Southern Song dynasty of 1127-1279 - has been named the Nanhai No 1 or 'South China Sea No 1' by archaeologists. It was estimated to contain 60,000 to 80,000 porcelain items when it was discovered in 1987 off the coast of Yangjiang, buried in 2 metres of silt at a depth of 30 metres.

Salvage did not begin immediately because of a lack of technology. Authorities guarding the vessel put out stories of underwater explosives to deter illegal salvagers.

The merchant ship was finally raised last December in one piece as archaeologists decided against dismantling it underwater and reassembling it afterwards because of concerns about preserving the relics.

It was the biggest and most complete ancient vessel found in mainland waters.

The public will be able to get its first glimpse of the wreck when it goes on display in October in a sealed, glass-walled pool at a marine museum built near where it sank.