published Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Experts to check possible Columbus shipwreck off Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — A team of experts from UNESCO will examine a site off northern Haiti that an explorer believes may be the wreckage of the Santa Maria, the U.N. cultural agency said Monday.

UNESCO officials said the technical team will explore the site in the coming months at the request of the government of Haiti, which is seeking assistance to preserve the possible wreckage of Christopher Columbus' flagship vessel.

U.S. undersea explorer Barry Clifford said in May that he believes he found the Santa Maria near present day Cap-Haitien based in part on the location of the remaining material and Columbus' diaries, but experts have expressed caution.

In agreeing to send the technical team, UNESCO is not confirming that the wreckage is that of the Santa Maria, spokeswoman Agnes Bardon said.

In a statement, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova expressed concern about the risk of looting and the trafficking in materials of cultural significance.

Clifford said that he first explored the site in 2003 and a cannon that appeared to be from the 15th century had vanished after a more recent follow-up dive.

He has said the site contains a pile of ballast stones, which were used at the time to help stabilize ships, and which appeared to come from Spain or Portugal. The area is near where he believes the Santa Maria struck ground and foundered in December 1492 and a portion of the crew built a settlement on land using materials salvaged from the ship.

Experts in undersea archaeology have cautioned that the area off Hispaniola contains a number of colonial-era shipwrecks and more research is necessary to confirm whether Clifford has located the Santa Maria.

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