CAP-HAïTIEN, Haiti, June 23 (UPI) -- More than five centuries after the sinking of the Santa Maria -- the flagship vessel of Christopher Columbus' first voyage to America -- researchers are back on its trail.
UNESCO has granted a request from Haiti for technical assistance in locating a shipwreck believed to be the sunken Santa Maria. The U.N. agency will send a team of experts to the country to meet with local researchers and attempt to find the ship.
Earlier this year, Bill Clifford, an American underwater explorer, confirmed that the wreck in question is indeed that of Santa Maria -- which drifted onto a reef on December 25, 1493 and sank. In 2003, Clifford and a team of divers visited the wreck off the coast of Cap-Haïtien, a town in the north of the island country. They claim to have identified a 15th-century cannon on their dive, but the wreck has since disappeared.
Haiti doesn't just want help relocating the wreck; they also want assistance in protecting their cultural artifacts.
In the past, UNESCO's work has seen significant archaeological finds returned by more powerful nations to the developing countries from which they were plundered.
"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," said Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, "notably the one that will visited by UNESCO's mission."