Chinese junk's voyage of discovery ends in shipwreck

TAIPEI (Reuters Life!) - A group of adventurers are aiming to build another Chinese junk after their first replica of the ancient vessel was shipwrecked off Taiwan just before completing a rare round-trip journey to the United States.

The crew from Taiwan and five countries were trying to show that Chinese seafarers may have reached America before Europeans.

But their junk collided with a freighter on Sunday during the last leg of its return journey across the Pacific from the United States. All 11 crew members were rescued after the accident which occurred 74 km (46 miles) east of their final port in Taiwan.

Had the journey been finished, it would have been the first Asia-North America round-trip on record by an ancient Chinese-style ship, said Angela Chao, a publicist for the crew.

The project, initiated by Taiwan hobbyist and junk captain Liu Ning-sheng five years ago, was intended to show that Chinese people might have sailed to the Americas hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus reached the New World.

“That boat made it to the United States, so I think it’s possible the ancient Chinese made it,” Chao told Reuters on Tuesday.

Taiwan is a self-ruled island neighbouring China and claimed by the mainland as sovereign territory.

The 16-metre (54-foot) Ming Dynasty junk replica, named “Taiping” after a Dynasty princess, set sail from Hong Kong in June and reached the United States in 69 days. It had stopped in Honolulu, San Francisco and Osaka.

The captain is planning to build a new boat after details of the accident are settled, his publicists say. The freighter involved in the collision has not been found.

“A lot of people have asked us about a new voyage,” Chao said. “The captain hasn’t ruled out that option, but it won’t happen any time soon.”

Some historians believe the Chinese discovered America, as artifacts, anchors and other gear from China are said to have been found scattered on the U.S. Pacific coast.