The Magazine for Underwater Professionals

Mar/Apr 2019


Diving into history on the 'Rooswijk'

Divers unravel story of 1740 Kent shipwreck

Divers prepare to visit the 'Rooswijk' site

The Rooswijk was a Dutch East India Company vessel which sank on the treacherous Goodwin Sands, off Kent, UK, in January 1740. The ship was outward-bound for Batavia (modern-day Jakarta) with trade and building goods. The site is now protected by the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and all access is controlled by a licensing system administered by Historic England on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. 

The ship’s remains are owned by the Dutch government. The UK government is responsible for managing shipwrecks in British waters, therefore both countries work closely together to manage and protect the wreck site. The Maritime Programme of the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) – on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture – and Historic England – on behalf of the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport – are responsible for the joint management of the Rooswijk.


MSDS Marine, UK, completed an archaeological survey of the site in 2016, on behalf of the RCE and Historic England, that showed that the wreck site was at high risk. The work included geophysical and hydrographic survey followed by a diving assessment. As a result, a two-year archaeological excavation project began in 2017. Wrecks such as the Rooswijk are part of the shared cultural maritime heritage across Europe and it is important that cultural heritage agencies are able to work together to ensure that sites like this are protected, researched, understood and appreciated by all. The project involved an international team funded by the RCE in partnership with Historic England. MSDS Marine is the UK Project Manager for the project. 

  • High-resolution multibeam survey of the 'Rooswijk'

MSDS Marine is a commercial diving and survey contractor specialising in archaeological projects such as the Rooswijk and in all archaeological work in support of development projects. Diving operations over the course of the Rooswijk project have been undertaken on scuba and surface supply using both a wet bell and a basket as dictated by tasks and conditions. The team has now completed 81 days diving on the site with 142 individual scuba dives and 376 individual surface supply dives. In 2018 alone divers were on site for 60 days, living and working from the diving support vessel Curtis Marshall.


The Rooswijk is located in 25 metres of water on the Goodwin Sands. Visibility varies from a rare four metres to a more normal zero to 50 centimetres with strong tides and short windows of slack water. Maritime archaeologists excavated the site using a number of techniques including custom airlifts built in-house by MSDS Marine. The positions of the divers were continuously monitored using a Sonardyne, UK, USBL acoustic tracking system coupled with Plymouth, UK-based 3H Consulting’s Site Recorded programme. The material recorded and excavated ranged from environmental samples and small artefacts to fragile glass bottles and large structural components. The project used a number of different methods from constructing custom boxes to protect fragile artefacts to using a large crane mounted on the vessel to lift heavy material. Each object was assessed by the divers as to how fragile it was and the most appropriate way to lift it.

The excavation has now been completed and material is being analysed by archaeologists from Historic England, the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands and MSDS Marine in a process managed by MSDS Marine. The team have now created a virtual trail for the site so that the public can explore it without getting wet!


To visit the virtual trail go to

  • The material recorded and excavated ranged from environmental samples and small artefacts to fragile glass bottles and large structural components





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