Chinese sailing boat sinks before completing 17,000-mile voyage

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A replica 17th Century junk built to prove that China's ancient mariners could have reached America before Columbus or Magellan has sunk off the coast of Taiwan just a day's sailing short of completing a 17,000-mile return crossing of the Pacific.

The Princess Taiping - meaning "peace" in Chinese - was within sight of shore off Su Ao harbour in northeast Taiwan when it was sliced in two after a collision with a Liberian-registered cargo vessel.

The 53ft, three-masted junk was built over six years by 30 traditional Chinese shipwrights in Fujian, southeast China using axes, chisels and models of the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). "We built it from the descriptions in an official Qing manuscript, right down to the handmade nails. It was a small warship, probably used for coastal voyages, and it would have carried 30 soldiers and a crew.

Captain Liu's almost-completed voyage appeared to prove that it was technically possible that China's greatest admiral and explorer, Zheng He, could have sailed to North America some 600 years ago. Despite the sinking, Mr Peng of the Chinese Maritime Development Society, said he believed the ship had "accomplished its mission".

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