High-Level Commission Will Look Into Possible Santa Maria Wreckage Off Haiti's Coast

Replica of The Niña sails into Chicago's Navy Pier.

Replica of The Niña sails into Chicago's Navy Pier.  (getty)

A high level commission composed of experts from the United Nation's cultural arm, UNESCO, several Haitian specialists, and U.S. explorer Barry Clifford, who led the discovery team, will look into the possible 500-year-old remains of the Santa Maria, Christopher Columbus's flagship.

The announcement was made this week via Twitter by the office of Haiti’s Prime Minister, Laurent Lamothe.

He said the commission will also include experts from the ministries of culture and tourism, as well as specialists from the Haitian National Pantheon Museum.

If the ship is the Santa Maria, it would be the oldest known European shipwreck in the so-called New World and a find of major archaeological significance. But scientists say it's far too early to make any such declaration especially since there is likely to be very little left of the vessel.

"The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming," Clifford said in a phone interview with the Associated Press from his home in Provincetown, Massachusetts. "The cannon is the smoking gun, so to speak."

He said that he and his son, Brandon, first explored the site and took photos in 2003 but didn’t understand the significance of their discovery until 2012, upon examination of the images.

He also said the vessel had been looted and a cannon, several gun carriage wheels, and parts of the helm they saw in 2003 had vanished by the time they returned last month.

"This is an emergency situation. The ship needs to be excavated as quickly as possible," he told EFE a couple of weeks ago, when the discovery was made public.

Clifford, whose exploration of the site is being backed by the History Channel, says he has asked the Haitian government to preserve the area around the wreck. "The next step is a careful, thorough and timely excavation," he said.

According to the Miami Herald, Clifford is expected to provide the plan within the next two weeks, and the work could begin as early as July 1.

"The Haitian government welcomes the news and attention such a discovery could bring to Haiti,” Lamothe said.

The AP and EFE contributed to this report.

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