London, May 14 - U.S. experts believe they have found Christopher Columbus's vessel Santa Maria on the ocean floor near Haiti in what could be one of the most important underwater finds ever made, British newspaper The Independent reported.
A team headed by underwater archaeologist Barry Clifford believes that the remains of the approximately 19-metre-long vessel are lying north of the coast of Haiti in 10 to 15 feet of water, a conclusion reached after analysing photographs taken during a previous research project more than 10 years ago, along with other photos from a more recent reconnaissance expedition.
All the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus's famous flagship, the Santa Maria, Clifford said.
The Haitian government has been extremely helpful -- and we now need to continue working with them to carry out a detailed archaeological excavation of the wreck, he told the daily.
The tentative identification of the Santa Maria -- the largest of the three wooden ships that Columbus used to discover the New World in 1492, although it displaced only about 150 tons -- was made possible by several investigative missions conducted by archaeologists in 2003.
With the information from the missions, Clifford has been able to use data from Columbus's diary to deduce where the sunken remains of the vessel should be.
Over the past few years, the team used magnetometers and other instruments to try and locate the Santa Maria near the Haitian coast.
We've informed the Haitian government of our discovery -- and we are looking forward to working with them and other Haitian colleagues to ensure that the site is fully protected and preserved. It will be a wonderful opportunity to work with the Haitian authorities to preserve the evidence and artifacts of the ship that changed the world, Clifford said.
He expressed confidence that once excavations are made -- and depending on the condition of the waterlogged wood -- it might ultimately be possible to bring the remains of the boat to the surface so that it may later be displayed in a museum in Haiti.
Columbus captained the Santa Maria, his flagship, on his 1492 voyage from Spain to the Caribbean at the behest of the Spanish crown seeking a new trade route to Asia, but -- after discovering the Americas lying in the way of further westward travel -- he was forced to abandon the vessel when it ran aground. The two other ships used on the mission were the Nina and the Pinta.
Clifford is one of the world's most experienced undersea explorers.