Unlocking secrets of the deep

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Two intrepid seafarers with strong Queenstown links have played frontline roles in the recent finds of ancient shipwrecks in Europe. 

Walter Peak Station co-owner, American Ian Koblick, 71, jointly heads the Aurora Trust, whose discoveries of Roman wrecks in the Mediterranean Sea are helping to rewrite the history books. 

And one of the general hands on the trust’s exploratory vessel Forteleza is former TSS Earnslaw stoker Dave Johnson. 

The Aurora Trust was set up in 2004 by Koblick and fellow American Craig Mullen, 66, a long-time deep-sea diver. 

Their first major find, the remains of a 2000-year-old Roman ship, was on the Spanish coast off Cartagena, in 2007. 

Last July, the trust made headlines when it discovered five wrecks dating from the first century BC to the fifth century AD, at the island of Ventotene, off Italy’s west coast. Intact at more than 100 metres deep were thousands of vases, called amphorae, which carried the boats’ cargo of wine and metal ingots from Italy and fish sauce from Spain and North Africa. 

“These wrecks define trade routes – they help document what history has said happened,” Koblick says. 

Koblick, who’s co-owned Walter Peak Station since 1998, is a renowned pioneer ocean scientist and aquanaut. 

Forty years ago he set up the Marine Resources Development Foundation, which developed the La Chalupa research laboratory in Key Largo, Florida. 

This was turned into Jules’ Undersea Lodge, the world’s only underwater hotel. 

Meanwhile, ex-Earnslaw man Johnson, 50, will again be working on the Aurora Trust’s vessel in Europe over the next few months. During his nine years on the Earnslaw, Johnson would meet Koblick as he travelled across Lake Wakatipu, to and from Walter Peak. 

Koblick convinced the Kiwi to jump ship on the last day he was onboard in early 2008 and he’s since become a valuable member of the crew. 

“We can’t get rid of him,” Koblick jokes. 

Johnson: “It’s changed my life. 

“In many ways I’ve swapped a coal shovel for a hose and a brush.”