Gotheborg relives history on the seas
A replica of the Swedish East India Company's 18th century merchant ship, the Gotheborg, was welcomed back home with fanfare and festive celebrations on Saturday.
The vessel returned to the southwest Swedish city of Gotheborg after two years during which it touched many of China's cities, including Hong Kong.
Its return coincided with President Hu Jintao's three-day visit to the Nordic country, the first-ever by a head of state since the two countries established diplomatic ties 57 years ago.
Thousands of leisure boats crowded the waters just beyond the harbour and tens of thousands of onlookers flocked to the port to watch the Gotheborg dock after retracing the original ship's route to and from China. A 21-gun royal salute was fired after the ship reached Gotheborg.
At 1:40 pm, Hu and his wife Liu Yongqing, accompanied by Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, boarded the vessel to the strains of Chinese folk music. Swedish politicians and pop stars, too, joined in the celebrations.
"Sailing more than halfway around the world, the new Gotheborg has built a bridge of friendship linking our two peoples," Hu said in his speech.
The 47-meter-long Gotheborg left the city of Gotheborg in October 2005 and sailed through Spain, Brazil, South Africa, Australia and Indonesia before reaching Guangzhou and Shanghai in China in July 2006.
On its return voyage, it stopped in Singapore and Hong Kong. It passed through London where the Tower Bridge was opened for it.
The Gotheborg is part goodwill ambassador and part promotional tool for sponsors like truck-maker Volvo that wants a piece of the huge Chinese market.
The original ship, the East Indiaman Gotheborg, was returning with full cargo from its third two-year voyage to China in 1745 when it ran into a rock at the entrance to Gotheborg port, and sank slowly in shallow waters.
Though the crew was rescued, almost 9 tons of china was lost. A third of the cargo that included tea, silk and spices was, however, salvaged and sold, making the expedition a profitable one anyway. The rest of the consignment was recovered only in the late 1980s.
The replica of the vessel was built in Gotheborg, using methods believed to have been in practice in the 18th century, although it's not entirely faithful to the original.
This time around, the crew did not have to share space with cattle. Instead, crew members were able to enjoy the luxury of showers and toilets. Water tanks, smoke detectors and five marine engines donated by Volvo were the other modern amenities on the new vessel.
"I'm very proud to accomplish this project in the presence of Sweden's head of state and the Chinese president," said Goran Bengtsson, head of the company that ran the vessel project.
"Using our common history we have created good conditions to improve our contacts in the future," he said.