Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Oldest Sub-Saharan Shipwreck Ever Discovered?

As a self-described literary "Corsair," we have had an abiding interest in maritime law and shipwrecks for as long as we have been alive. And being originally from sub-Saharan Africa, this story about a 500 year-old shipwreck leapt out. From Bloomberg:

"De Beers, the world's biggest undersea diamond miner, said its geologists in Namibia found the wreckage of an ancient sailing ship still laden with treasure, including six bronze cannons, thousands of Spanish and Portuguese gold coins and more than 50 elephant tusks.

"The wreckage was discovered in the area behind a sea wall used to push back the Atlantic Ocean in order to search for diamonds in Namibia's Sperrgebiet or 'Forbidden Zone.'

"'If the experts' assessments are correct, the shipwreck could date back to the late 1400s or early 1500s, making it a discovery of global significance,' Namdeb Diamond Corp., a joint venture between De Beers and the Namibian government, said in an e-mailed statement from the capital, Windhoek, today."

Now comes the maddening part. Spain and Portugal will probably claim ownership, because they are powerful nations and they just might get a taste with enough strongarming. DeBeers will also, probably, declare ownership. But that contradicts Namibian law, which says that any such discoveries off their coast belong to the nation. DeBeers, although the discoverers, have too much money tied in with Namibia, and could probably be pressured to drop the claim altogether in the interests of future relations. But if there were a collectively agreed upon and enforced Law of the Sea -- something The Corsair's father fought for on the UN Law of the Sea Commission in the late 1970s -- this would not be the problem it is probably about to become. We will keep you informed ...

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