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article imageGerman Expert Hunts For Sunken Artefacts Off Cape Verde

By Joerg Vogelsaenger     Jan 3, 2001 in Lifestyle
LISBON (dpa) - It was a cold February night in 1762 as the "Dromadaire" navigated off the coast of the Cape Verde islands on its way to India.

There was a thick sea fog and suddenly a desperate cry pierced the gloom. "The rocks, the rocks!"

The warning came too late and within seven minutes the French East Indiaman, its captain Le Houx and 77 crew were torn asunder. Dragged to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean with them were tens of thousands of gold and silver coins.

The fate of the "Dromadaire" was not an isolated one in the Cape Verdes, a group of islands some 600 kilometres from Senegal. They were a regular staging post on the route used by countless merchant vessels in colonial days.

They plied the oceans between Europe, South America and the Orient with valuable cargoes of gold, silver and precious stones.

The hazardous reefs were the undoing of many a helmsman and a team of underwater archeologists led by German treasure hunter Count Nikolaus Sandizell of Bavaria began in 1995 with the task of tracking down these lost riches and bringing them to the surface.

"We're working on 12 wrecks similtaneously and in the case of seven, salvage is nearly complete," said the 41-year-old count from Duesseldorf.

Around 45,000 coins and 3,500 other valuable items ranging from cannon to jewellery and unscathed 200-year-old bottles of wine have been brought to the surface of the Atlantic.

Some of the items came up for auction at Sotheby's in London in December, including a silver-plated astrolabe, a unique navigation aid from 1645 and precursor of the sextant.

The instrument used for determining latitude was salvaged from a Portuguese or Spanish trader that sank around 1650. It sold for 124,500 pounds sterling to a U.S. museum in Newport News, Virginia where it will go on display.

Together with Peter Sieger and other partners, Sandizell founded the salvage company Arqueonautas Worldwide - Arqueologia Subaquatica S.A. based in Funchal on Madeira.

Back then the company reached an exclusive concession agreement with the Republic of Cape Verde, a former Portuguese colony, to set up a joint enterprise. It gave the Arqueonautus company the right to recover wrecks in the region worth a total of up to 50 million dollars.

"We believe that at least 10 per cent of this potential can be recovered," said the firm's founder.

What may sound like an adventure "is in fact a professional and extremely competitive business," said Sandizell, who used to work for a large German machine-tool maker in Mexico, Southeast Asia, Spain and Portugal.

His team comprises 40 staff, including eight divers and 14 restoration experts. The firm sees itself as a privately-funded "maritime archaeological organization" rather than just another "treasure-hunting company".

Assuring high academic standards are celebrated marine archaeologists Professor Mensun Bound of Oxford University and Dr. Margaret Rule. She was one of the senior academics involved in the raising of the the Marie Rose, Henry VIII's flagship.

On board the Polar the "arqueonauts" use non-intrusive software and sophisticated technology to probe the wrecks.

Archives, maps and lists of cargo are consulted extensively before an excavation begins. "It takes up to three years before we even get a licence to proceed," said Sandizell.

The German likes to stress the scientific aspect of the operations. "The aim of the group is the conservation and restoration of items which belong to our marine archeological heritage."

Each discovery is meticulously recorded and many artefacts are on display in museums."

The maritime archaeology company maintains a page on the Internet with news and information about its latest excavations. Entitled Arqueonautas, it can be found at:

More about Artefacts, Cape verde, Submarines, German
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