Friday, February 25, 2005


Still waiting for our ship to come in


Jamaica Gleaner
By Dennie Quill
February 25, 2005

THE COUNTRY is owed an explanation why after five years of exploration for underwater treasures, Admiralty Corporation of Atlanta, Georgia, has nothing to show us for their efforts. If indeed, treasure-laden ships swallowed up by the Caribbean Sea have dumped their payload in the waters off Jamaica's south coast, they are doing us no good simply resting on the ocean floor. This is our greatest museum yet, and I don't believe we should leave these artefacts to rust into oblivion. We need to exploit them and quickly.

Press reports indicate that there is some haggling between the Government and the salvors over alleged failure to honour aspects of the licence given to Admiralty. This is five years down the road. When did the Government realise that the salvors were in breach of their licence? And shouldn't there be remedy for such breaches? Is it time to revoke this licence as suggested by heritage expert Ainsley Henriques?

Our rich maritime cultural heritage cannot be left to the whims of treasure hunters. All over the world, there are frenetic attempts to salvage these relics of historical significance. In our region we hear of it happening in Cuba, where Chinese pottery and gold crosses are among the finds unearthed, and other interesting artefacts have been found in St. Kitts and the Dominican Republic.

Most of these countries have insisted that archaeology be part and parcel of every salvage operation. They well understand that profit is the treasure hunter's only motive and that piracy is alive and well. Wreck sites are zealously monitored by their Coast Guards because these countries recognise that such sites are subject to plunder. Has the Jamaican Coast Guard been put on alert where these salvage operations are being carried out?

So what has Admiralty Corporation been doing these five years? More appropriately did they have the requisite expertise to undertake this operation? They apparently passed the litmus test of the Contractor-General's Office, so they appear to have had the all-clear.

I have no problem with private sector salvors, because the capital input is enormous and without private sector's help, it would be left to the Government ­ that's you and me. But as with any contract we ought to carry out our due diligence to ensure that the parties are in a position to deliver. It is much too late in the day to be arguing about equipment, etc.

Salvage operations require access to very expensive high-tech underwater exploration technology in order to probe the treasure-drenched deep. It is because of the existence of such machinery that teams can now explore at once unimaginable depths.

Remote photographic technology also allows them to relay what has been sighted. So the Admiralty team should have long convinced Minister Henry-Wilson and the country that they have indeed located the wrecks and seen the goodies.

A project of such national importance, so invaluable in providing clues to our history, should have been properly communicated to the people of Jamaica. There ought to have been regular, at least annual, updates to Parliament. The public has a right to be informed because our Government is undertaking this project in our name.

Senator Noel Montieth who has been put in charge of the project should move quickly to see that things get on track and if Admiralty is not the one to do it, then terminate the contract and start again.

Let us not forget that bacterial decay, oxidisation and other factors ensure that these wreck sites, caught between the past and the present, will not be there forever.

Here is how the noted explorer Gary Gentile put it in 'Seafearers' Journal of Maritime History'.

"A shipwreck is a time capsule, a fragment of history buried in the sea, a temporary repository which hides remnants of a bygone age. The wood or steel hull is a transient storehouse. The artefacts it contains are not granted eternal life for the sea is ever changing, ever destroying."

Now if the preservationists win the day, they would be happy for everything to remain intact. And the Government may well decide that since these wrecks have reached equilibrium with their environment they should not be disturbed.

Then the other idea would be to court a rich investor who would be able to provide deep-sea diving expeditions to the sites.

This sounds like a big undertaking but Disney also had big dreams and look at Orlando today. Let's hope we see some action on this project.


Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?