On August 24, UNESCO launched an underwater archaeology expedition in the Skerki Banks between Sicily and Tunisia. Along one of the busiest maritime routes in the world, a dozen marine archaeologists are searching the seabed for shipwrecks sunk between ancient times and World War II.
The Skerki Banks, comprised of reefs that are dangerous and difficult to navigate, once connected Rome’s supply port Ostia to the city of Carthage.
Listen beautiful relax classics on our Youtube channel.
The 150-foot-long Alfred Merlin archaeological research vessel—named after the French archaeologist who led the world’s first underwater excavation in 1907—is exploring the Tunisian continental shelf through September 3. Following its initial trip around Sicily’s coastline, the boat is expected to dock in Bizerte, Tunisia. Last year, the Alfred Merlin was launched by the French department for marine archaeological research along the Côte d’Azur.
Along with UNESCO’s backing, the expedition includes the support experts from eight countries.
“This mission constitutes an important step in a cooperation project that started already in 2018 when eight countries—Algeria, Croatia, Egypt, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain and Tunisia—decided to protect together what they believe to be shared underwater cultural heritage in the Mediterranean,” said UNESCO coordinator Alison Faynot to Al-Monitor. “All eight are countries that have ratified the 2001 Unesco convention on protecting underwater cultural heritage.”
In an earlier report, UNESCO emphasized “the exceptional archaeological potential of the Skerki Banks.” Between 1988 and 1997, several U.S. operations explored the Strait of Sicily, which “made it possible to locate at least eight extremely well-preserved wrecks from various periods.” Among the finds was the wreck of 19th-century British Royal Navy ship the Athenian.
“The idea today is to try to draw up an inventory of the wrecks,” the expedition’s French representative, Michel L’Hour, told Franceinfo.