12 Things You Didn't Know About Shipwrecks

By Spencer Hart on at

If you're lucky enough to be holidaying in Cornwall this week (and not stuck inside a sweltering office) you may have found some Lego washed up on the beach. What is the reason behind this adorable beach debris? Well it's not another Greenpeace protest; in fact, a shipping container carrying Lego fell from the Tokio Express in 1997, spreading 4.7 million little pieces of joy across the globe. This started our little minds wondering, what else don't we know about Davy Jones's Locker?


1.) There are four types of ship debris

There are four types of marine debris: flotsam, jetsam, lagan and derelict. Flotsam is debris which has been washed ashore because it accidentally fell from a ship, while jetsam is cargo which has been intentionally jettisoned from a ship. Lagan is debris which can be recovered (usually because it's attached to a buoy), while derelict is debris which cannot be recovered. So next time you're at the beach, try playing the 'what type of debris is that?' game with your family. [Image Credit: The Hindu]


2.) An estimated £35 billion worth of treasure resides of the seafloor

James Delgado from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), estimates there are a million shipwrecks underwater right now, while UNESCO estimate that number might be as high as three million. It's no surprise then that based on his company's historical research, Sean Fisher roughly calculates that £35 billion worth of treasure currently lies in Davy Jones's Locker. Unfortunately most of it is inaccessible. [Image Credit: ShutterStock]


3.) If you think Lego washing up on Cornwall's beaches was impressive, wait until you see what landed in East Devon

When MSC Napoli became damaged by storm Kyrill, opportunistic Brits travelled from far and wide to raid the containers which washed up on Branscombe beach in Devon. The cargo contained nappies, wine casks and the top prize (for those plucky enough to take one) was a BMW motorbike.

Bonus Fact: Other notable flotsam includes thousands of bananas washed up in Canada, thousands of trainers in the Netherlands, dozens of novelty fly swatters in Alaska and perhaps the cutest flotsam ever: 28,000 rubber ducks fell from a shipping container into the Pacific Ocean, and have been found as far as 17,000 miles away. [Image Credit: The Epoch Times]


4.) Ships which are wrecked on purpose may actually do more harm than good

Many ships are wrecked on purpose in order to spur reef growth and provide a large habitat for different types of marine life. But a 2008 study published in PLOS One, revealed that the coral which grows on these ships is aggressive to native coral species. The example used is rhodactis howesii, which leaches on the iron from submerged ships and uses stinging tentacles to clear away any competitors. [Image Credit: Divescover]


5.) Have you taken something home from the beach? You could be fined £2,500!

There are several laws relating to marine salvage: the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. If you should stumble upon wrecked materials lying on a beach, you must report it to the Receiver of the Wreck. If you fail to do so, and instead decide to help yourself, you can be fined £2,500, plus twice the value of any goods stolen. [Image Credit: Containers4SaleUK]


6.) The families of shipwrecked immigrants tried to sue Australia

After a ship capsized on it's way to Australia in 2010, killing 50 illegal immigrants on board, bereaved relatives attempted to sue the Australian Government. Their lawyer claims the Australian Government didn't do enough to prevent their deaths, while the Australian Immigration Minister says the lawsuit is "shameful". [Image Credit: Wikipedia]


7.) The Royal Mint created commemorative 50p coins using recovered silver from the sunken SS Gairsoppa

In 1941, the SS Gairsoppa was hit with a torpedo fired from a German submarine; she took 20 minutes to sink, taking with her 61 tonnes of silver bullion. The ship rested 2.9 miles underneath the ocean's surface until 2011, when work began to recover the lost treasure. After two years, on 23rd July 2013, it was announced the silver with a value of £137 million had been recovered from the wreckage, making it the deepest and most valuable recovery in history. The Royal Mint has now created 20,000 commemorative 50p coins using the silver recovered from the ship, available for £30 each. [Image Credit: Finance Online]


8.) Women and children first? Ain't nobody got time for that!

When the call for 'abandon ship' is declared, 'women and children first' is what you'd expected to hear next, but guess what: that's extremely unlikely. It's known as the Birkenhead Drill, but there have only been two cases where this procedure has been carried out. Firstly on the HMS Birkenhead in 1852, but only because the captain held a gun to his crew and ordered it. The second time was on the RMS Titanic, where the ship took a long time to sink. Men are actually twice as likely to survive than women, while children have the worst chance of survival. [Image Credit: Encyclopaedia Titanica]


9.) A pirate ship full of animals was sailed from the top of Niagara Falls

The winner of the 'Most Stupid and Pointless Shipwreck Award' goes to the hotel owners in the Niagara Falls area. These entrepreneurs devised an attraction in which the "Pirate Michigan", along with a cargo of "animals of the most ferocious kind, such as panthers, wild cats and wolves," would plunge over the falls on 8th September 1827. Word quickly spread and a crowd of 10,000 gathered on the day. They watched as one buffalo, two racoons, one dog and a goose, plunged down the falls – only the goose survived. [Image Credit: Wikimedia]


10.) Recovered lead from a sunken Roman ship has been used in the shield of a neutrino detector

In a nice duality between the ancient and modern, lead recovered from an Ancient Roman ship has been used to create a shield in Italy's neutrino detector. The lead is useful because it has lost almost all of its natural radioactivity. [Image Credit: Universe Today]


11.) You could build ten RMS Titanic ships from the profits of Titanic the film

The ocean liner cost an unprecedented £1.5 million to build, which translates to roughly £100 million today. The film cost £146 million to make and grossed over £1 billion worldwide, which means you could build around ten RMS Titanic replicas from the profits of the film. Just make sure you make the hull a bit thicker this time. [Image Credit: Wikipedia]


12.) You can use ping pong balls to recover your sunken vessel (kind of)

One of Donald Duck's greatest contributions to mankind is without doubt inventing a way of raising a sunken ship using only ping pong balls. This concept was later tested and confirmed by the Mythbusters in 2004. Adam and Jamie used 27,000 ping pong balls to float a 1500kg sunken sailboat.

Bonus Fact: Owners of the Costa Concordia, which was stricken off the coast of Italy, also thought about implementing this idea to dislodge their ship. Although in the end they went for a more traditional approach. [Image Credit: Cracked]

[Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock]