AS the exploration of Viscount Melbourne, a 150-year-old British cargo vessel, that sank right under Luconia Shoals continues, amateur marine archaeologist Captain Hans Berekoven and his wife Roz as well as their team of marine researchers went on to make a bold move – re-establishing Malaysia’s sovereignty on the site by planting the ‘Jalur Gemilang’ there.
Upon planting the flag, Hans made an emotional statement that the move was important to warn China to back down.
“Even though Luconia Breakers and Shoals lie 322 miles within Malaysia’s Exclusive Economic Zone, they remain hotly disputed territory between the two countries due to the extensive, untapped oil and natural gas resources.
“For the past two years, with China Coast Guard vessel permanently anchoring in the area, in a distance of a mile away, I hereby strongly stand by my decision of putting the flag as I believe it was a more appropriate thing to do, in order to secure the safety,” he said.
Hans was among the group of explorers, amateur marine archaeologists as well as a Sarawak Museum curator who were on the flag-planting mission. The team set off to the site on the eve of Merdeka Day, and managed to complete their mission on Aug 31.
“The simple gesture was certainly a memorable one for Malaysia on this day of Independence, as we did this in full view of the Chinese Coast Guard and Royal Malaysian Navy vessels which were both nearby.
“The Malaysian government must take a serious look into this matter because it is also a maritime archaeological site of Viscount Melbourne,” he reiterated.
Multi-Governmental Support for Civilisation Research
In fact, the discovery of Viscount Melbourne was a coincidence as, according to Berekoven, during their research on Sunda Shelf they found clues leading to the shipwreck.
He revealed that he was currently on a mission to gather relevant information relating to Sunda Shelf, a sunken site surrounding Southern Asia that could prove a lost civilisation of over 12,000 years old.
“Based on my research and information gathered, it is possible that the lost civilisation of Sunda Shelf is much older than that of other known civilisations.
“According to history, the oldest known civilisation is said to be established 6,000 years ago. However, clues have shown that a 12,000-year-old civilisation was established on the floor of South China and Java Sea.
“The Ice Age, how it shaped the world and how it changed everything when the sea level went down and the Biblical flood that swept everything in a dramatic, very quick catastrophic event, we might not know exactly what happened, but we will find it.”
Hans added that the geological event is important because there are possibilities that 70 per cent of the animal on earth and more than 90 per cent of human vanished due to this during that time.
“If there was a city here (on Sunda Shelf), there is an indication that it could take thousands of years for human population to slowly build up and rapidly increase.
“If proven to be true, it will be a sensation that we could re-write history and rearrange the sequence of civilisations including Mesopotamia, India, Persian, Greek or Roman, according to the number of years,” he reiterated.
Hans further revealed that the Australian government had expressed interest in his project and pledged its support if he could get a formal invitation from Indonesia to participate.
“Now that we found historic wrecks, and we are attracting supports and the time is very good, we are now hoping to get support and formal invitation from Malaysia as well, and then we would have a three-governmental enterprise and we can hire seismic survey vessel and we could go up these rivers of Sunda Shelf using seismic ray to look underneath the surface.”
Though with high hopes, Hans said if he failed to get support, he would have to do it on his own effort, which would take more than a decade to complete.
“Either seismic survey vessel or bottom profiler, the expenses could take up to AUS$80,000 a day, which is why we need a multi-governmental strength to share the cost and manpower.
“Public support is needed as well as they too, need to know because they are also part of the civilisation,” he said.
Establishing Exhibition Centre
After Hans’ meeting with local businessman, Troy Yaw, the idea of setting up an exhibition centre was suggested as a way to appreciate the historic shipwreck.
During a recent interview with Yaw on the project, he told The Borneo Post that due to the nature and number of artefacts that they have managed to salvage, it is possible to set up an exhibition centre.
“The effort of bringing up these artefacts already takes a lot of time and energy, because being buried more than 42 metres underwater at such a low temperature limits divers to only 10 minutes per trip.”
On the venue, Yaw said it would only be decided once the artefacts were ready.
“For now, not only we need to make sure there are a sufficient number of artefacts for public display, we have to take into account the maintenance expenses that would include air-conditioning system (to maintain low temperature), the electricity and water bills, security guard etc.
“Should we successfully establish such a centre, it would create a platform for educational purpose, for young people to learn about our maritime history,” he said.
A maritime history fan himself, Yaw further said he would make sure that the exhibit centre feature sculptures of significant maritime figures like Admiral Zheng He, a Chinese-Muslim from Yunnan, China.
“It is important to introduce Zheng He (or Cheng Ho) due to his navigating skills and his broad horizon voyaging to places. Study carefully, we would find that Zheng He’s fleets visited Malacca, Brunei, Java, Thailand, Southeast Asia, India, Africa and Arabia, dispensing and receiving goods along the way.”