Add them to the list: Underwater survey discovers new wrecks in Marlborough Sounds

A sonar image of the Koi on the seabed of the Marlborough Sounds - the only wreck Land Information NZ has released ...

A sonar image of the Koi on the seabed of the Marlborough Sounds - the only wreck Land Information NZ has released information on.

On the seabed of the Marlborough Sounds lies the scattered remains of dozens of wrecks - a hidden history that covers more than a century of shipping.

The area has one of the richest maritime traditions in the country - Captain Cook spent a third of his time in the Sounds during his voyages to New Zealand.

Now some of that history has been unearthed, with the discovery of previously unknown wrecks during a state-of-the-art survey of the seabed.

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (Niwa) spent eight months surveying 40,000 hectares of Queen Charlotte Sound and Tory Channel.

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It used multi-beam technology to scan the seabed, collecting 30 terabytes of data which will be used to create three-dimensional maps of the depths below.

Marlborough Heritage Trust executive director Steve Austin with a map showing shipwrecks in the Sounds and an unopened ...

Marlborough Heritage Trust executive director Steve Austin with a map showing shipwrecks in the Sounds and an unopened bottle from the ill-fated Lastingham.

The project, a joint venture between Niwa, the Marlborough District Council and Land Information New Zealand, also discovered a number of wrecks.

A Land Information NZ spokeswoman says details of the wrecks found have been passed onto police.

"This is a standard process for our undersea survey work."

The Soviet cruise ship Mikhail Lermontov lists before sinking in Port Gore on February 16, 1986.

The Soviet cruise ship Mikhail Lermontov lists before sinking in Port Gore on February 16, 1986.

Because data collected during the survey is still being analysed, Linz will not comment on the wrecks until the process is complete.

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A police spokeswoman says they have been advised of one wreck discovered during the survey, located just out of Waikawa in Queen Charlotte Sound.

"The wreck is in water that is too deep for police to deploy divers into - the top of the mast is just under 40 metres underwater," she says.

"A number of vessels have broken off moorings in the Sounds over the years and have never been found, and it's possible that this wreck is one of those vessels.  

"Fortunately none of the vessels that have broken off moorings have missing persons associated with them."

But despite the lack of information, historians in the area are still excited by the discoveries.

A map at Marlborough Museum lists 57 ships that have sunk in the Marlborough Sounds, including many historical wrecks that occurred in the 19th century.

In 1884, 18 people drowned after the 67-metre long Lastingham was blown onto Cape Jackson, before slipping off the rocks into the depths.

It was a dark and stormy night, and the iron ship was nearing the end of its long journey between London and Wellington when it was pushed onto the cape.

Half the passengers and crew near the prow of the ship managed to reach the mainland, but those at the rear died after it slipped back into the sea.

An earlier wreck in 1849 remains a mystery. The 10-tonne schooner Comfort was discovered floating bottom up in the Queen Charlotte Sound with no sign of its six-strong crew.

And in 1834, 10 people drowned after the Shamrock capsized and sank, again in the Queen Charlotte Sound although no specific place or area is known.

Arguably the most well-known wreck in the Marlborough Sounds is the Soviet cruise ship Mikhail Lermontov, which sunk in Port Gore on February 16, 1986.

Marlborough Heritage Trust executive director Steve Austin says the discovery of new wrecks in the Sounds is an exciting development for maritime history in the region.

"We're really looking forward to what they've come up with, because it may well relate to archival documents and collections that are in the museum already," he says.

"It's a reminder that the past is never dead, and that there are always new discoveries to be made."

Marlborough harbourmaster Luke Grogan says the survey results will be used to update navigational charts for Queen Charlotte Sound and Tory Channel.

Current charts mostly relied on surveys carried out in 1942 and 1943, so Luke says the update will be invaluable for providing up-to-date information.

No wrecks were discovered during the survey that posed an immediate hazard, but he suspects some will be marked on the new charts developed by Linz.

As well as his professional involvement in the survey, as a mariner Luke says the fact new wrecks have been discovered is fascinating.

"The history of the Sounds, and in many ways the region, is a nautical one," he says.

"When you have modern technology that starts to reveal some of the stories of the past, it's fascinating, and I suspect there will be wrecks identified that have really interesting stories to tell."

 - The Marlborough Express


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