The fifth session of the Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage was launched at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris.
International experts and delegations of States took the floor and debated the increasingly problematic state of the pillaging and commercial exploitation of underwater cultural heritage. Special concern was expressed about the current unscientific intervention ongoing on a major shipwreck in Madagascar. The Assistant-Director for Culture of UNESCO, Mr Alfredo Perez de Armiñán, expressed his vivid apprehension and said that “the preservation of underwater cultural heritage sites from pillage, commercial exploitation and unscientific excavations is of utmost importance. These sites are fragile and contain the legacy of all humanity. I am very worried of the situation in Madagascar and express my full support to the Ministry of Culture of Madagascar in its fight to protect its submerged heritage”.
The president of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Body, Michel L’Hour, reported on the mission of the body to Haiti to verify the identity of a supposed Santa Maria wreck and stressed the operational reactivity of this body. He said that this UNESCO body was ready to assist all States Parties in need of scientific and technical support immediately and through high quality advise. He also stressed that the UNESCO 2001 Convention fully protected underwater cultural heritage from pillaging and trafficking and set the internationally recognized standard for any activity directed at that heritage. No exception should be made.
The delegations and experts in the room then underlined the need to raise the appreciation of the public for underwater cultural heritage and discussed Best Practices concerning underwater cultural heritage. They also strongly appreciated the work to virtualize a UNESCO series of most outstanding sites of underwater heritage, begun with the work on the World War I wreck of the Danton.
The following day, upon request by Panama, the Meeting of States Parties also approved a mission of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Body of the 2001 Convention to Panama in order to investigate the threatened San José wreck site.