This week marks the centenary of the Titanic’s sinking. Much interest was generated when, in 1985, the ship was located by the famous oceanographer Robert Ballard using the submersible named ALVIN. It was a triumph in marine technology.
Of course, the oceans are littered with centuries of shipwrecks, yet there is one little known wreck that could be worthy of a Harrison Ford movie.
In 1838 the ship Beatrice left Alexandria, Egypt, bound for England. Its cargo consisted of numerous artefacts of Ancient Egypt, yet the prize was the beautiful black basalt sarcophagus of the pharaoh Menkaure; owner of the third pyramid at Giza. The discoverer, Egyptologist Col. Howard Vyse, had rather drastically blasted his way into the pyramid leaving a scar still visible today.
Once loaded, the Beatrice set sail for a stopover in Malta after which it made for the Strait of Gibraltar. However, the story goes that as the ship approached the coast of Spain a fierce storm broke out and the Beatrice sank. Some reports at the time said sailors swam ashore at Cartagena and pieces of wreckage had also washed up around the Spanish port.
This indicated that the ship was not far offshore, yet no search was made and the Pharaoh’s sarcophagus has lain at the bottom of the Mediterranean ever since. It seems perverse that this ancient object had lain in serene silence in its pyramid for over four millennia, only to be blasted awake and end up at the bottom of the sea.
In 2008 the Egyptian government announced its desire to search for the wreck using submersible robots. Dr Zahi Hawass, head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, was seeking financing from the National Geographic Society. He was also looking at employing the services of Robert Ballard.
However, such a project has the potential for a political stoush between Spain, Britain and Egypt. Legally the wreck sits in Spanish waters, yet the ship was British. Yet the sarcophagus and the other artefacts belong to Egypt, which Dr Hawass says was stolen by the British. The project seems to have stalled and considering the revolutionary turmoil in Egypt its future seems very uncertain.
The sarcophagus of Menkaure may lie in its watery grave for an indeterminate time yet. Where’s Harrison Ford when you need him?
Peter Conde, Uki