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Sunken remains of a 400-year-old Dutch Empire ship found in Baltic Sea

A ship believed to have been used by the Dutch Empire during the 17th century has been found at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. 

The vessel, known as a fluyt, was a three-masted ship with a hull designed to maximise cargo capacity and minimize crew numbers and also carried no guns. 

It was made with a unique rigging system that enabled a smaller crew to hoist and adjust the sales, freeing up more space and cutting down costs. 

It was a key component of the Dutch Empire, which spanned five continents and was the world’s biggest superpower before the British Empire became dominant.

But what led to the demise of this specific ship remains a mystery, as it has been found by divers in near-perfect condition.  

Jouni Polkko, from Badewanne, the diving team that found the wreck said there are no hints to explain the ship’s fate.  

‘The hull is intact. It’s in the middle of the sea, so it didn’t run aground,’ he explains. 

‘Maybe it capsized in a storm, or the pumps were stuck and the ship got too much water in because of a leak.

‘Or maybe the rigging was frozen and made the ship unstable. But we really don’t know.’

The divers said they observed only ‘slight’ damage to the vessel which is believed to have been caused by trawler netting.

They even saw that the holds were full, though it’s impossible to say what the ship was carrying because of 400 years worth of silt.

Juha Flinkman, also from the Finnish diving group, said it was a ‘great surprise’ to come across the fluyt. 

‘This fluit family of ships were fundamental in the rise of the Dutch Republic into the economic superpower it was,’ he said. ‘In their time, they were very efficient vessels.’

‘And one has to remember that it was this type of ship that practically all Dutch explorers used – like Willem Barents in the Arctic, and those who went to Australia and Asia.’

The divers discovered the wreck at the mouth of the Gulf of Finland, where they believe the conditions helped protect the ship’s structure.

Mr Polkko said: ‘It is only in rare places around the world, including the Baltic Sea, where wooden wrecks can survive for centuries without being destroyed.

‘Due to low salinity, absolute darkness, and very low temperatures all year round, these processes are very slow in the Baltic.

‘Perhaps most importantly, wood-boring organisms such as shipworm cannot live in such environments.

‘Even in temperate seas, all wooden wrecks vanish in decades, unless buried in sediments.’

He continued: ‘All of the Baltic Sea is good for preserving old shipwrecks. But towards the Gulf of Finland conditions just improve as the salinity decreases.

‘Also, the sea is frozen in the winter, so ice cover stabilizes conditions even further.’  

The Dutch Golden Age lasted until the late 17th century but the empire eventually lost many of its colonial possessions to the ascendant British Empire.

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