Haiti: UNESCO to Send Experts to Explore Possible Santa Maria Wreck

Above: Christopher Columbus on Santa Maria in 1492, Emanuel Leutze, 1855

By the Caribbean Journal staff

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization will be sending a team of experts to provide technical assistance to the site of an underwater shipwreck thought to contain the remains of Columbus’ Santa Maria.

The team announced this month follows a request by Haiti Culture Minister Monique Rocourt for support from the Scientific and Technical Advisory Body of UNESCO’s 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage to examine the site, which was discovered by American explorer Bill Clifford.

The site, which was revealed on May 14 by Clifford, was first visited by Clifford’s team in 2003, when a team first identified a cannon believed to be from the 15th century.

The wreck site is located off the coast of Cap-Haitien in the north of Haiti, where the Santa Maria was believed to have run aground on Dec. 25, 1492.

In a statement, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova said she was concerned about the risk of “looting of underwater heritage sites off the shores of Haiti. We stand by the authorities in fighting illicit trafficking in underwater cultural heritage objects and urge States to join Haiti’s efforts to find artefacts stolen from these underwater archaeological sites, notably the one that will visited by UNESCO’s mission.”

Haiti is one of the 48 countries to have ratified UNESCO’s Underwater Heritage Convention, which was adopted in 2001.