The debris of what could be the lost flagship, Santa Maria, one of the ships from Christopher Columbus’s first voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, has been discovered off the coast of Haiti. The remnants of the ship were in an area that Christopher Columbus himself had stated that the wreck would be found in, 500 years earlier, when the ship ran aground. It was on Christmas Day in 1492 that the Santa Maria went down, a scant day after it had drifted onto a reef off the north coast of Haiti.
Both the Haitian government and the local government of the Haitian town of Cap-Haitien, near where the lost ship is supposed to lie, have requested the presence of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The government, the town and the organization have all expressed concerns over looting at the historic site. The government of Haiti also wants the Scientific and Technical Advisory Body affiliation of UNESCO to send in a team of experts to ascertain if the wreck is indeed that of the lost flagship, the Santa Maria, the biggest of the three ships that Christopher Columbus used on his historic journey across the Atlantic Ocean.
Purportedly, American underwater explorer Bill Clifford, among others, found more wreckage back in 2003, including a cannon that was believed to be from the 15th century. However, the cannon have since gone missing. On May 14, 2014, Bill Clifford claimed to have discovered the famed lost remains of the largest flagship in Christopher Columbus’ fleet, the Santa Maria. However, UNESCO spokespeople are saying that it is too soon to be able to tell if this is in actuality the Santa Maria. Over the coming months, the organization will be sending in a mission to look at the wreck and examine the evidence.
According to a 2001 Convention, which mandates the protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage sites around the world, UNESCO is standing with local Haitian authorities in the fight against illegal trafficking of artifacts and objects from sites such as this one. There are already 48 states which have ratified support for the illicit sale and trade of Heritage artifacts to date. Haiti is one such place that has also banned this practice of trafficking. The Scientific and Technical Advisory Body that UNESCO is sending to Haiti is made up of 12 experts that are known around the globe. They were elected when the members met for the State Party at the 2001 Convention.
UNESCO is also calling on the United States to aid in the protection of the site, and to help in the recovery of stolen items from other underwater heritage sites. If in fact this new site turns out to be the lost flagship, the Santa Maria, the grandest of all three of the ships that Christopher Columbus brought with him when he sailed the entire Atlantic Ocean for the first time, it will have significant meaning to the United States. Yet other experts in the field of undersea archaeology state that the vast perimeter off Hispaniola holds a multitude of colonial-era wrecks, more than any other part of the world. They say that more analysis is required to make such a claim at the current site. It may take months, or longer, to ascertain the validity of Bill Clifford’s claim.
Opinion by Korrey Laderoute