Explorer hopes for quick return to possible Santa Maria wreck

Wed May 14, 2014 4:44pm EDT
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By Laila Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - An underwater explorer who claims to have found the wreckage of Christopher Columbus' flagship, the Santa Maria, off the north coast of Haiti hopes to begin excavating the site as early as next week.

Barry Clifford, a Massachusetts marine investigator who recently led a reconnaissance expedition to the site, told a press conference at the Explorers Club in New York on Wednesday that the start of any excavation depends on approval from the Haitian government.

Clifford also said he needs to locate a facility to potentially house any of the remains.

He and a team of marine explorers say evidence "strongly suggests" the artifacts from the shipwreck off Haiti belong to the Santa Maria, which Columbus used on his maiden voyage to the New World in 1492.

Some experts and Haitian officials have reacted with scepticism to the possible discovery, saying they doubt that enough of the vessel remains to make a definite match.

"I think the evidence is overwhelming that the ship is most likely the Santa Maria," Clifford said, citing its location close to the spot where the ship is believed to have gone down, as well as the wooden remains of the keel seen at the site, along with a cannon.

Clifford, 68, said he has held talks with Haiti President Michel Martelly seeking approval to start excavating. He urged Haitian officials to take steps to protect the artifacts, and said some items, including the cannon, appeared to have been looted from the site.

The wreck was discovered in about 10 to 15 feet of water near a reef almost five miles offshore, Clifford said. On his next expedition he said he hoped to recover pieces of wood and other materials used to build the ship.   Continued...

A replica of Christopher Columbus' caravel Santa Maria is shown in this circa 1892 handout photo provided by the United States Library of Congress on May 13, 2014.  REUTERS/U.S. Library of Congress/Handout via Reuters