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Culture Ministry urges care of objects on sunken UK ship

TAIPEI -- The Culture Ministry has sent a message to the Lienchiang County Government, urging it to take good care of the cultural relics found in a British ship that sank near its island more than a century ago.

The ministry said in a news release that it sent the letter to the county government, asking it to list all unearthed objects from the sunken ship and turn them over to a designated agency for safekeeping.

The ministry also demanded all of the salvage work being done on the sunken ship, S.S. Sobraon, be halted immediately to keep the wreckage intact.

The ministry said it admired residents of the outlying Matsu Islands for their passion that led to the discovery of the wreckage of the ship near Tungyin Island.

“Based on the consideration that underwater historic relics are assets shared by the public,” the ministry has asked Lienchiang County to adopt necessary measures to protect the objects according to the law, and take complementary measures to further pinpoint and protect the site.

Culture Minister Lung Ying-tai said the ship ran aground on April 24, 1901 near Tungyin Island, and all crew members and others aboard were saved. Even postal packages and luggage belonging to the passengers were removed, showing that all efforts had been made to save anything valuable.

She said that according to a complete investigation report by a British court on June 18 and 19 that year, the ship, scheduled to sail from Shanghai to London via Hong Kong, had 280 passengers and crew members and 800 tons of cargo aboard.

Lung cited the report to say that the captain calmly gave orders when the ship lost power and gradually sank.

All passengers were awoken, placed on the deck and offered coffee and cookies. Another two small ships sailed in different directions to seek possible settlement destinations.

After all aboard were saved, the captain stayed behind to take care of the aftermath. He only returned to Great Britain after announcing abandoning the ship on May 8.

The captain probably saved all he could of the silk and other items that could be saved, according to the report. According to historical records, S.S. Sobraon was a passenger ship built in Scotland in 1900, with a displacement of 7,382 tons.

One year after the accident, the British government financed the building of a lighthouse on the island, which still exists today.

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