Exploring the Epochs in Maritime History
World Maritime Day is to commemorate and bring awareness about the 80% of global trade and commerce carried out by the shipping industry. From the times of goods being tied to floating logs or time from canoes to ships, maritime history is rife with legends, epoch discoveries and explorations. Take a nautical journey with us.
The first things that come to our minds when we hear the word ship are the stories of Sindbad the Sailor and his 7 voyages or Titanic or maybe Marco Polo, Vasco da Gama, Columbus, etc. Right?
But, the 6000-year-old maritime history traces the local transport evidenced by boats dated back to 4000BCE. Then the ancient papyrus proved their ventures into the shallow waters of the Red sea and the Mediterranean sea. The earliest voyage of the world (lasting two years) was also by Egyptian King Herodotus in 600BCE.
Almost 75% of the earth has water bodies like the seas, oceans, rivers, etc. So civilizations have always strived to make vessels for water transport in different forms. It is the most convenient and cost-effective transportation of cargo and human travel at all times.
Noah's Ark is believed to be the first ship built on earth as instructed by God and guided by the Archangel Gabriel as per the Biblical stories. The Ark was to save the lives of the believers and each pair of species of plants and animals from the great deluge when the entire planet was totally submerged in torrential floods. Today the fossilised remnants of the massive ship are found on the peak of a mountain in Turkey.
Rivers were the earliest water transport source where the small cargo floated tied to logs along the river. Later they began to tie multiple logs to make a raft for larger goods or human travel in shallow and placid waters. There are traces of trade routes through the Arabian sea between the lands of India, Pakistan and beyond even 5000 years ago to safeguard from land bandits.
In Asia, the Chinese Dugout Canoe or the Indian tribal round rafts of bamboo assembled with a base of buffalo hide are the first representation of water transport. The first oceanic travel was recorded when the trading ship Venetian Buss passed through the Strait of Gibraltar.
The invention of the Compass in the 14th century marked another epoch in maritime history. It changed the whole gambit of navigation. By the 15th century, the full-rigged ships were flourishing just as the eastern maritime trade was sailing in full force by the 16th century. The first scientific ship was made by the British shipbuilder Phineas Pett. Some famous water trade routes from the 15th to 19th centuries were between Virginia and Maryland for tobacco, Mexico and Peru for silver, etc.
On the eastern waters Zheng He, the three jewelled eunuch Admiral was the greatest explorer from China. He conducted seven epic and successful voyages to the middle east, southeast Asia and Africa. He is said to have commanded the world’s most mighty fleet of 300 ships sailed by 30,000 troops from 1405 to 1433.
When the economy of any empire relied on maritime trade the flip side consequences were Pirates. Remember the legends of the Vikings or the famed Pirates of the Caribbean? But, the security of ships, trade routes and territorial coastline became a serious concern. This need for security gave birth to the Navy merchandise and then the Coast Guard.
The search for new resources in new lands for supremacy in power led to the Age of Discovery or Explorations. Records prove that it was triggered by Henry The Navigator- A title awarded posthumously to the legendary Portuguese Prince. He was the first to start the system of patronage and he sponsored the Portuguese explorations across the Atlantic and the west coast of Africa. These led to the colonisation of the Madiera and Azores islands and also fueled the Atlantic slave trade.
These exploring spree marked the entry of Europeans into the waters of East Asia and thus, India was discovered by Vasco da Gama setting off a new era of colonisation of Asian lands.
A convention was passed in 1948 in Geneva to form an agency to navigate and coordinate the world's maritime regulations and security. Thus the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) was initiated and renamed later as Inter-Governmental Maritime Consultation Organization(IMCCO). This organization is responsible for World Maritime Day.
The first celebration of this day was held on March 27 1978. Now it is annually celebrated in the last week of September each country fixing its own date in that week. The theme of this year is “New Technologies for Greener Shipping”. India celebrates National Maritime day on April 5th to mark the maiden voyage of the merchant ship SS Loyalty with an Indian flag from Mumbai in 1919.
The earliest navigational instrument used is the Astrolble which seemed to predict the position of the planets and stars along with the sun and moon. On one part of the Mediterranean sea, the Romans were building fleets of wooden ships while the Arabs began developing trade routes through the Indian Ocean to Asia, and also other routes to Europe and Africa during the 7th – 13th centuries. They built vessels called the Qarib or commonly known as Dhow, considerably reducing the time in the transportation of goods.
Today the shipping industry has scaled unfathomable heights and there is no water body on earth where no ship has sailed and anchored. Each part of the world today is interconnected with communication systems and trade because of shipping and sailing. And so World Maritime Day is the global celebration of all the mariners, explorers, the shipping industry and the navy. It expresses our appreciation and gratitude for their valour and contributions.