By Zachary Fagenson
7:33 p.m. CDT, May 13, 2014
MIAMI (Reuters) – A shipwreck found off the north coast of Haiti could be the 500-year-old remains of the Santa Maria, which led Christopher Columbus’ famed voyage to the New World, according to a team of marine explorers.
“All the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus’ famous flagship, the Santa Maria,” Massachusetts marine investigator Barry Clifford said in a press release on Tuesday.
“I am confident that a full excavation of the wreck will yield the first-ever detailed marine archaeological evidence of Columbus’ discovery of America,” he added.
Clifford, 68, who led a reconnaissance expedition to the site last month, will hold a press conference Wednesday morning at the Explorers Club in New York to announce the discovery.
He said he would like the ship to stay in Haiti as part of a permanent exhibition to help the country’s struggling tourism industry.
But a Haitian official reacted with skepticism on Tuesday, saying it was unlikely that anything remains of the wreck.
“It’s a historical and scientific mistake to say that the Santa Maria could have been found under the sea,” said Erol JosuÃ©, director of Haiti’s National Ethnology Office, noting that its timbers were used by survivors to build a small fort, named La Navidad, considered the first European settlement in the New World.
HISTORY AND MYSTERY
The wreck was discovered in about 10 to 15 feet of water near a reef, and matches the length of the Santa Maria’s 115-foot keel, according to the exploration team.
Its geographical location coincides with Columbus’ description of where the Santa Maria sank, and stones found at the wreck site match a quarry in Spain that provided ballast for Columbus’ ships, the team said.
“The size of the wreck is consistent with the dimensions of the Santa Maria,” said Dirk Hoogstra, general manager of History, a cable TV channel that funded the latest expedition to the wreck site.
“There’s not a whole lot of wood left after all these years,” he added, saying it’s unclear how much of the ship could be recovered from the sea.