Text of speech by Dr Tom Vosmer, Director of Construction, Jewel of Muscat Project at the Jewel of Muscat Website Launch
15th March 2009
Your Excellency Mr President and Mrs Nathan, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Nearly 1,100 years ago a ship was returning from the Far East with a fabulous cargo of Chinese ceramics, gold and silver vessels, bronze mirrors and spices intended for Middle East markets and souqs. Tragically, the ship struck a reef and sank. A calamity for those involved, whether sailor or merchant, but the foundation for a rebirth of the vessel, and a unique collaboration between Oman and Singapore today.
It is my honour and privilege as director for construction and voyaging to welcome you to our building site, and to introduce to you our beautiful ship. This ship is a faithful reconstruction of that early 9th-century trading ship which sailed the Maritime Silk Route, at that time the longest sea-trading route in the world, stretching some 6000 miles.
Although some of the materials used in the original ship came from distant places – Africa, India, Southeast Asia – the method of construction – the sewn planks and beams – clearly marks the vessel as having been built in this region. The wide range of materials attests to the far-flung trade routes of early Islamic history, which Oman played a key role in establishing.
For our reconstruction we are using timbers including Afzelia africana from Ghana, teak from Burma, poona from India, sidr from Oman. The cordage to sew the ship together is coconut rope, some 100 km of it. The two sails will be made from woven palm from Zanzibar.
Archaeologically, this reconstruction is taking us to new levels of understanding of early Omani shipbuilding technology. Everyday as we build we are faced with challenges to interpret and understand the complexity and cleverness of ancient shipbuilding, and to transform that understanding into the wonderful ship you see under construction.
Our international construction team is providing training for young Omanis in the entire range of skills and knowledge needed to construct a ship like this: ship design and structure, carpentry, sailmaking, and rigging.
The building of this ship is being comprehensively documented in detail. Every piece that goes into the ship is being measured, weighed, photographed and drawn, each stitch and rope lashing recorded. Our daily discussions about archaeological interpretation, about design and structure are noted. A time-lapse camera captures a snapshot of the construction every five minutes, and video images of the vessel’s progress are made everyday.
When the ship is complete, a piece of maritime history will have been brought to life. After sea trials and crew training, we intend to sail the ship to Singapore, providing not only further opportunities to explore ancient seafaring and navigation, but to promote Oman as a modern nation which still cares deeply for its heritage and history.
We wish to express our thanks and gratitude to His Majesty the Sultan and his Government for all the support and guidance in realising this project. We also thank our Singaporean interlocutors for their collaboration and partnership. And finally, on a personal front, I wish to thank the construction and documentation team working with me on a daily basis, creating this ship and the five scale models we are making of it.
Now I would like to introduce Lamya Al Kharousi who will tell you about the website.