A massive ship which forged an empire has been found sunken in near-perfect condition despite almost 400 years underwater.
The fluyt was the key to the Dutch Empire’s rise to an economic superpower that handled half of Europe’s shipping by 1670.
Even wreckages are rare but one of the last fluyten has been found at the bottom of the Baltic Sea in such good nick it’s a mystery how it sank.
Jouni Polkko, from Badewanne, the Finnish diving team that found it, said: “There are no hints for that.
“The hull is intact. It’s in the middle of the sea, so it didn’t run aground.
“Maybe it capsized in a storm, or the pumps were stuck and the ship got too much water in because of a leak.
“Or maybe the rigging was frozen and made the ship unstable. But we really don’t know.”
The divers said they observed only “slight” damage to the vessel and that was from trawler netting.
They even saw that the holds were full, though it’s impossible to say what the ship was carrying because of the accumulated silt.
Juha Flinkman, also from the Finnish diving group, said it came as a “great surprise”.
“This fluit family of ships were fundamental in the rise of the Dutch Republic into the economic superpower it was,” he said.
“In their time, they were very efficient vessels.
“And one has to remember that it was this type of ship that practically all Dutch explorers used – like Willem Barents in the Arctic, and those who went to Australia and Asia.”
The divers discovered the wreck at the mouth of the Gulf of Finland, where they believe the unique local conditions helped protect the ship’s structure.
Mr Polkko said: “It is only in rare places around the world, including the Baltic Sea, where wooden wrecks can survive for centuries without being destroyed.
“Due to low salinity, absolute darkness, and very low temperatures all year round, these processes are very slow in the Baltic.
“Perhaps most importantly, wood-boring organisms such as shipworm cannot live in such environments.
“Even in temperate seas, all wooden wrecks vanish in decades, unless buried in sediments.”
He continued: “All of the Baltic Sea is good for preserving old shipwrecks.
“But towards the Gulf of Finland conditions just improve as the salinity decreases.
“Also, the sea is frozen in the winter, so ice cover stabilises conditions even further.”
It also carried no guns and had cleverly-designed rigging that enabled a smaller crew to hoist and adjust the sales, freeing up even more space and cutting down costs.
Meanwhile its shallow draft allowed the vessel to access ports and rivers that other ships couldn’t.
The Dutch Golden Age lasted until the late 17th century but the empire eventually lost many of its colonial possessions to the ascendant British Empire.