Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Underwater museums set to attract tourists


Underwater museums could be the new way to attract tourists and preserve cultural heritage if a study on shipwrecks is successful.

Kenya and Egypt are the only African countries carrying out studies to implement the underwater cultural heritage projects.

Head of Underwater Archaeology at the National Museum of Kenya (NMK) Caesar Bita said the museum was undertaking a search in Indian Ocean to document ship wrecks from Mombasa, Malindi and Lamu.

Mr Bita said NMK intended to establish the number of wrecks in the coastal waters and recommend the ways to conserve the ships while they work to build capacity to implement the project in future.

“NMK is at initial stages of documentation of the wrecks to know their status, stability in the ocean and the material used for construction,“ he said.

According to the NMK Act, cultural heritage that qualify to be listed as underwater heritage are those that are 50 years old and above.

The UN Education Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) lists cultural heritage as objects that have attained the 100 year mark and above and consistently in water.

Mr Bita said findings traced from the ship wrecks study would be linked to the history of the growth and development of the three towns.

He noted that Mombasa had many wrecks including the Santa Antonio, a Portuguese ship that sunk in 1697 when it was attacked by Oman Arabs off Fort Jesus.

Among other sunk ships are Highland Lassie (1879), Sussex (1909) and Hamad (1909).

In Malindi, the latest discovery is a 14th century ship wreck at Ngomeni, two kilometres from the shoreline at a depth of 10 metres. It was found by Mr Bita while doing a survey in 2008.

Mr Bita said studies were underway to determine the origin, age, cargo and the type of timber used for its construction.

In Lamu, NMK is working with the Chinese government in a three-year project to study a Chinese ship wreck believed to have sunk off the Kenyan coast 600 years ago.