Published Tuesday, May 13, 2014 | 9:27 a.m.
Updated Tuesday, May 13, 2014 | 1:45 p.m.
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — An underwater explorer said Tuesday that he may have found the long-sought wreckage of one of Christopher Columbus' original ships off northern Haiti, but the find is far from confirmed.
Barry Clifford said evidence, including what appears to be a 15th century cannon and ballast stones that look like they came from Spain or Portugal, suggests that what remains of the Santa Maria is in relatively shallow waters at a site he declined to disclose for security reasons.
"The circumstantial evidence is overwhelming," Clifford said in a phone interview from his home in Provincetown, Massachusetts.
He said that he and his son, Brandon, first explored the site and took photos in 2003. They decided to publicize their findings after a follow-up dive and examination of the photos led them to conclude they may have found the Santa Maria, which ran aground in December 1492 during Columbus' initial voyage. The cannon that they saw in 2003 was gone when they returned to the dive site last week.
Clifford, known for discovering a pirate ship off Cape Cod in 1984, said he has met with Haitian government officials to preserve the site so a full archaeological exploration can be conducted.
There are reasons to be skeptical that this is indeed the Santa Maria, said Kevin Crisman, director of the Center for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation at Texas A&M University.
Crisman said many Spanish ships sunk off Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic, and it will be difficult to confirm that this is the Santa Maria. The ship sank slowly in 1492 and the crew had time to remove valuable items, such as a cannon that would help document the identity of the vessel.
"If whoever finds the Santa Maria can confirm that it's the Santa Maria, that's kind of like the Holy Grail," Crisman said. "It would be very exciting but I remain skeptical because people make claims all the time."