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Possible Wreck of the Santa Maria Faces Investigation

Jun 23, 2014 03:47 PM EDT

A team of experts are due to investigate an ancient wreck right off the island of Haiti that many believe is the Santa Maria - one of three boats that famously sailed with Christopher Columbus when he first voyaged to the Americas.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has announced that it will send a mission of experts to examine the potentially historic wreck within the next few months. The wreck is located just off the coast of Cap-Haïtien, in north Haiti.

This announcement followed pleas from Haitian Culture Minister Monique Rocourt, who asked for support from UNESCO, citing the mission of the agency's Scientific and Technical Advisory Board for the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, expressed her concerns about the safety of the wreck now that news is out the potential Santa Maria. The illegal plundering of underwater sights off the shore of Haiti would not be unexpected, she explained in a statement.

"We stand by the authorities in fighting illicit trafficking in underwater cultural heritage objects and urge States to join Haiti's efforts to find artifacts stolen from these underwater archaeological sites, notably the one that will visited by UNESCO's mission," she said.

The wreck was identified as the Santa Maria by American dive explorer Bill Clifford, who had first visited the site back in 2003 - finding a cannon he believed to be from the 15th century.

Records state that the Santa Maria sunk in late December of 1492 after striking a reef just off the coast of Haiti.

UNESCO is cooperating with Haitian underwater experts in accordance with the Underwater Heritage Convention, which was adopted in 2001 and aims to "ensure the safeguarding of underwater heritage and support research and international cooperation in this field."

The announcement was made by UNESCO on Monday, June 23.

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