Adventures Of "Aquaman": From Fishing With Dad To Navy To Shipwreck Discovery
STORY: Ng Kai
01 July 2021
Discounting the recent viral Facebook post which put Marina Bay Sands in the US state of Tennessee, Singapore is probably most famous for being a maritime hub since the 1800s.
And who would have thought that our waters also held sunken treasures! On 16 Jun, the National Heritage Board and ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute annouced that two shipwrecks had been located: The first, dating to the 14th century, had been detected about 100m north-west of Pedra Branca. The second, dating to the late 18th century, had been found about 300m east of the same island.
Among the wreckage, divers uncovered Chinese ceramics as well as a variety of artefacts including betel nut cutters, medallions and figurines.
But this project has been a long time in the making. According to a Facebook post (above) by Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, "a team of divers spent several years gently and gingerly excavating this hidden treasure, previously undiscovered for hundreds of years".
And thanks to another Facebook post (above), we now know the identity of the diver featured in an image by ISEAS which was offered to news publications - one Matthias Goh.
"Proud, privileged and honoured to be part of this underwater archeological project of a couple of wrecks found near Pedra Branca. Long days, heavy hauling and strong currents definitely paid off to be part of this historical moment in Singapore’s history books," he writes.
In a postscript, Matthias states: "I’m the diver featured in the underwater picture Can’t help but be proud although there isn’t a face but those who have been diving with me know that I only have one set of outfit that I always dive with, my Gul rash guard."
We caught up with Matthias and did a, ahem, deep dive with this 32-year-old "Aquaman" into his lifelong love for the sea, passion for diving, and the amazing underwater discovery that he was fortunate to be part of.
Waseh! It's cool enough that you're a diver, but now you can also flex you found treasure leh.
I was asked by a good friend and ex-colleague of mine from RWS S.E.A Aquarium, Zulfli Mazlan, whether I was interested in a dive project that would happen maybe only once in a lifetime.
He didn’t reveal much but I immediately thought to myself: “A once-in-a-lifetime dive - I don’t care what it is, just sign me up!” Plus, I trusted Zul, so I didn’t care what it was as long as we were in this together.
How did the discovery happen?
We were really fortunate. The wreck was chanced upon by some commercial divers who were around the area salvaging a sunken barge and brought the findings to [maritime archaeologist] Dr Michael Flecker and Michael Ng from ISEAS about the porcelain they had found in the area.
We can tell from your Instagram and Facebook that diving is life! How did your passion for the sea begin, and what has it taught you?
Well, since young, I’ve always been in love with the ocean because my dad (shown above) had a boat and he started me off fishing when I was about 4 or 5 years old, so that kick-started everything.
I picked up diving when I was 16, 17 years old with my dad. I’m 32 this year, so it’s been about 16 years now. I started with a local dive shop here called Blue Reef Scuba, and I've been diving recreationally with them ever since.
I worked with RWS S.E.A Aquarium for a few years before leaving to do a short stint in commercial diving. So yeah, I guess diving is really something I’ll be doing for as long as my body can take it!
Going to places and getting the opportunity to dive in remote places around Asia definitely helped me be more independent and self-reliant on land as well as underwater because even though we dive in pairs, I take it upon myself to be competent that I can help myself underwater and assist my dive buddy should the need arise.
And it seems like you're inextricably linked to the sea cuz, what a coincidence - you did your national service in the Navy! Any special takeaways from your stint as a radar specialist there?
Definitely the awesome individuals I had the humbling opportunity to spend my time with. Oh, and the realisation that the oceans are vast - really vast!
Brother a bit leh - can share some of the lesser-known diving spots around Singapore?
I think these days because of COVID-19 and travel restrictions, our local dive enthusiasts have had no choice but to shift their need for underwater exploration to our local islands like Pulau Hantu, Sisters Island and Pulau Jong.
If given the opportunity, I’d really want to dive at Raffles Lighthouse, which I heard is incredible, but it’s restricted, so no diving there for the general public.
What's the best part about Singapore's waters?
Best part? Ok, before COVID-19, a lot of us were saying that “Singapore waters not clear, what’s there to see, nothing but rubbish” but COVID-19 has forced a lot of individuals to explore our local waters even more, and I’m proud to say that surprisingly enough, the biodiversity in Singapore waters is amazing!
We can always afford to take better care of our surroundings, particularly the waters around Singapore. What are some of the ways we can contribute?
Well I suppose we can’t do much with how our waters look visibility-wise because of how busy our ports are (and we need our ports for our economy).
If the majority of us make a conscious effort not to litter, not throw our disposable masks into the waters, that would help gradually. Ultimately, I believe it all starts from awareness and education at a young age - at home, in school.
Our generation and future generations have the power to improve the conditions of our water. Only we can make it happen. It’s a matter of whether the majority of the population sees the need and importance to do so.