PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - Haiti is determined to continue the search for Christopher Columbus' flagship, the Santa Maria, after a United Nations report this week found that a wreck discovery did not match the historic vessel.
"We will not leave any trail unexplored to discover what might remain of this famous ship," Haiti's minister of culture, Monique Rocourt, said on Wednesday.
In May, a team led by U.S. marine explorer Barry Clifford said it had identified the 500-year-old wreck of the Santa Maria off the country's north coast near a reef.
The Santa Maria was one of a fleet of three vessels that left Spain in 1492 to look for a shorter route to Asia. The ship is believed to have drifted onto a reef near Haiti on Christmas Day and had to be abandoned.
A UNESCO mission of experts requested by the Haitian government concluded that bronze or copper hull fastenings found at the wreck site indicated shipbuilding techniques of the late 17th or 18th centuries, much later than the Santa Maria's construction.
"There is now incontestable proof that the wreck is from a much later period," according to the report drafted by mission leader Xavier Nieto Prieto, UNESCO announced on Monday.
Nieto Prieto, a former director of Spain’s National Museum of Underwater Archaeology and a leading expert on Spanish shipwrecks, visited the north coast of Haiti last month with Haitian officials.
The report recommended further exploration to find the Santa Maria.
Disagreement continues to swirl over the likely wreck site. The UNESCO report said the wreck discovered by Clifford was too far from the shore to be that of the Santa Maria, citing contemporary accounts of the shipwreck.
Clifford insists his site is accurate, citing a type of cannon he found, known as a lombard, used on 15th century Spanish ships, as well as ballast stones from that era.
"It is essential that UNESCO investigate the entire area where the lombards were discovered, photographed and drawn in situ," Clifford said in a statement on Wednesday.
"I would be delighted to assist UNESCO and look forward to them getting in touch with me to review our photographs, drawings and survey records," he added.
Haitian officials say they will look everywhere on the shoreline and in the sea "because no expert can, so far, prove without a shadow of a doubt the exact location where the Columbus flagship sank," Rocourt said.
Writing by David Adams; Editing by Leslie Adler