Barry Clifford speaks about the shipwreck during a news conference at the Explorers Club in New York. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
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 that the
start of any excavation depends on approval from the Haitian
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.
The Santa Maria was one of three vessels that left Spain to
look for a shorter route to Asia.
The ship sank on Christmas Day in 1492 and had to be
abandoned. Afterwards, Columbus left behind 39 men at La
Navidad, a fortified camp, and sailed back to Spain. He
returned a year later to find the fort destroyed and none of
his crew alive.
Clifford said he based his conclusions on the wreck's
proximity to La Navidad, and data from Columbus' diary.
The precise location of La Navidad is not known, though
archaeologists from the University of Florida have excavated
a possible site about 10 miles east of the city of Cap
Haitien, on Haiti's north coast.
Clifford's team first discovered the wreck in 2003, but was
unable to identify the ship.
Among artifacts found during a previous exploration of the
site was a 15th-century cannon. The cannon and other key
items have since been taken by the suspected looters,
The artifacts were found underneath a large mound of ballast
rock Clifford said that can be matched to a quarry near the
port of Columbus' departure in southwestern Spain.
But experts on Columbus' voyages say similar rocks were also
used in other ships at the time, some of which traversed the
The Spanish government has not been in touch with Clifford,
said a spokeswoman for Spain's Ministry of Culture, who asked
not to be named.
"The two governments (Spanish and Haitian) are in touch and
both agree that there are doubts over whether it is the Santa
Maria and that we need more information," the spokeswoman