Page last updated at 11:39 GMT, Monday, 27 April 2009 12:39 UK

Ming Dynasty replica junk sinks

Princess Taiping (Courtesy Chinese Maritime Development Society)
The Princess Taiping was powered solely by wind

A replica 15th Century junk has sunk off Taiwan, one day short of completing an epic voyage to the US and back.

The Ming dynasty-style Princess Taiping was trying to prove that China's greatest admiral, Zheng He, could have reached North America 600 years ago.

After surviving several storms during its 10-month voyage, the junk broke in two and sank after it was rammed by a freighter just off Taiwan's coast.

All 11 crew members were rescued after being found adrift on the wreckage.

'Really ashamed'

"We have worked so hard for so many years, but we failed at the last minute, I'm really ashamed," said Taiwanese captain Liu Ningsheng after being rescued by the coast guard.

The crew are rescued by helicopter as the boat sinks

The 54ft-long (16.5m) Princess Taiping, powered only by cotton sails on three masts, was designed according to ancient specifications.

It set sail last June and called at several ports on the US west coast, including San Francisco, and at Honolulu, after riding out several storms.

It sank 30 miles (48km) off the island's north-eastern port of Suao, just hours shy of completing its record-breaking Pacific crossing.

Capt Liu's crew included six Americans, two Japanese, one Taiwanese and a Chinese national.

Several were treated for hypothermia or light injuries, but later released.

Some historians argue that the Chinese discovered America, citing anchors and various other Chinese artefacts found scattered on the floor of the Pacific Ocean.

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