The Haarlem was a Dutch ship that ran aground in Table Bay in March 1647, and 62 of the crew members stayed in the area to try to save the cargo from the ship. Picture: Supplied

Cape Town - The wrecking of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) ship ‘Haarlem’ in Table Bay on Sunday 25 March 1647 "can be regarded as the catalyst that created not only Cape Town, but also the roots of current multiracial and multicultural South African society".

This reveal comes from the African Institute for Marine and Underwater Research, Exploration and Education (Aimure) who released an im­portant update in Project Haarlem on Friday.

Dr Bruno Werz is the head archaeologist on the project and has been poring over historical maps and documents from the area since 1989.

58 of the people on board the Haarlem - consisting of Dutchmen, Germans, Frenchmen and other Europeans - were repatriated by accompanying ships soon after the incident, but 62 men were left behind to try and salvage as much of the cargo as was possible. 

"They found refuge in a makeshift camp, Fort ‘Zandenburch’, where they lived for about one year. During their stay, the men from ‘Haarlem’ came into contact with indigenous people. Upon returning to the Dutch Republic, they reported favourably of their experiences," Werz said. 

"As a result, VOC management decided to establish the much-needed stopover for their ships. 

"This station, that became informally known as the ‘Tavern of the Seas’, later developed into the City of Cape Town. The wrecking of ‘Haarlem’ can thus be regarded as the catalyst that created not only Cape Town, but also the roots of current multiracial and multicultural South African society."

According to Aimure no shipping disaster world-wide had ever such an impact on the history of a whole nation.

Recent developments in the search for the shipwreck, have resulted in the discovery of the location that in all likelihood contains the wreck of ‘Haarlem’. 

This site is situated just offshore, 1 to 2 m underwater and at a depth of about 3 to 4 m below the sea bed, close to the Dolphin Beach Hotel in Table View, Cape Town.

Cape Argus