The jagged rocks off Oshima Island break the surface of the ocean like so many knives strewn across the shallow water. Even on a calm day, they are a menacing reminder of the maze of reefs that surround this island in the Pacific just off the coast of Kushimoto, Wakayama Prefecture, in central Honshu.

It was into these treacherous waters that the Ottoman frigate Ertugrul was blown one stormy night 118 years ago. Thrown against the reefs, the ship split apart and sank, taking with it more than 500 men and leaving just 69 survivors, says Kiyoshi Oishi, director of the Turkish Museum on Oshima.

Ironically, the tragic shipwreck helped cement a friendly relationship between Turkey and Japan that has continued to this day.