A heritage to treasure from the sea, ST Editorial News & Top Stories

The discovery and excavation within Singapore’s waters of two shipwrecks, one dating possibly to the 14th century and the other to the 18th, are a reminder and confirmation of the country’s longstanding role as a maritime and economic link within and outside Asia in the pre-colonial era. Both wrecks, bearing Chinese ceramics as their primary cargo, were found off Pedra Branca, a rocky outcrop surrounded by shallow waters. The two historical shipwrecks are significant because they are the first to be found within Singapore’s waters. Singapore has claimed the wrecks and their artefacts since there were no claims at the end of the stipulated notice period of a month. There may be more wrecks on the seabed in these waters, but some of them have been covered by reclamation while heavy maritime traffic in the Singapore Strait makes locating others a hazard.

For the time being then, these two shipwrecks must be considered to be major markers of Singapore’s maritime history. What terrestrial and maritime discoveries and excavations do is to help broaden and expand the public’s perception and understanding of Singapore’s history. There cannot be any doubt that Sir Stamford Raffles established modern Singapore in 1819. That date is important in this island-city-state’s history. Rafflesian Singapore is contemporary in the sense that the role Raffles found for Singapore in the unfolding economic geography of Asia and the world all those years ago lasts to this day. Independent Singapore grew from the Singapore of Raffles.

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