INAH Damaged A 200-Year-Old Ship Sunk In The Mexican Caribbean And Insists It Was Just An Accident

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The Underwater Directorate of Underwater Archeology of the INAH recognized the damage to a centenary ship, but assured that these were due to an accident.

Personnel of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) caused damage to the archaeological remains of a ship that was shipwrecked in 1836 off the coast of the Mexican Caribbean, and excluded from the project the specialist who denounced the case before national and international instances.

According to photographs and videos held by this medium, the ship, which is a cultural heritage of Mexico , was damaged after a series of maneuvers by the INAH staff responsible for the project, such as tying a buoy to the archaeological remains, or impacting the area of the shipwreck with sand sacks.

Several of these sacks also affected the coral reefs of the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere, a protected natural area where the wreck is located, so the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONAMP) filed a complaint for possible damage to biodiversity .

Octavio del Río, an architect with an underwater specialty who participated with the INAH in the discovery and subsequent analysis of the ship, denounced that these damages were the product of “repeated negligence” of the INAH researchers with whom he worked until November last year, when, After reporting irregularities, he was excluded from the project for alleged misconduct.

The Underwater Archeology Branch of the INAH, meanwhile, admitted that there was damage to the archaeological remains and that there could be “some negligence” of its personnel in some of the maneuvers, such as tying a buoy to part of the archaeological remains. But he clarified that the affectations were caused by “ an accident ”, typical of when working in the open sea.

Treasures, legends, and pirate ships

Three kilometers from Cayo Lobos, an islet of paradisiacal postcard that emerges in the middle of the Caribbean off the coast of the Othón P. Blanco municipality, in Quintana Roo , are the coordinates of the shipwreck. 

There, within the Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve, the remains of the Jean , a freighter-type sailboat that was built in 1819 on the docks of Irvin, Scotland , rest about 12 meters deep . 

It is a medium-sized boat, approximately 35 meters long and 9 meters long, which was destined for British Honduras, now Belize, to transport a type of treewood that was formerly used to color clothes and other textiles, known as ‘dye stick’. 

For years, Jean transported that merchandise from the Caribbean to Britain and the United States. Until, according to the reports of the British insurer Lloyd’s, he disappeared in 1836 in ‘North Triangle’ , or ‘ The Northern Triangle’ ; place that the Spaniards previously baptized as ‘Chinchorro’ , or ‘ El Quita Sueños’ , because it is a maritime area mined by atolls where ships run aground .

After the sinking, the Jean , which combines the wooden structure of the galleons of yesteryear with the iron reinforcements of the first ships of the Industrial Revolution, remained anonymous on the seabed for almost two centuries. 

Until, in 2004, Octavio del Río, diver and architect specializing in underwater archeology, found his whereabouts with Maricarmen García, who was then director of the Banco Chinchorro Reserve. Although Del Río himself points out that it could be a “ rediscovery ”, since in 2013, years after the ship was reported to INAH as an unpublished finding, a fisherman named Manuel Polanco said that in the 80’s he found it and put the name of ‘Angel’, in honor of the captain of the boat in which he was sailing.

Del Río explains that they located the ship after research and work with local fishermen in the area, who were initially reluctant to collaborate due to legends that ensure that in that piece of the Caribbean Sea there are sunken pirate ships .

And, in fact, Del Rio exposes, it is relatively true. At least, the part of that in that place in the Caribbean there are reports of shipwrecks of the 16th century and also of sinking of more contemporary ships, such as the Jean . Although, for now, there is no indication that any Wandering Dutchman lies on the seabed of Banco Chinchorro with its wineries full of gold and jewelry.

INAH Damaged A 200-Year-Old Ship Sunk In The Mexican Caribbean And Insists It Was Just An Accident

Once the ship was located, the first records and plans of the site were made, in which it was documented that the hull of the boat is buried under the sand, and that on the surface were elements such as the anchor and its chain, a wheel, containers , ballast stones, remnants of dye sticks, and the buzarda, which is part of the metal railing of the bow that shapes the sailboat.

Shortly thereafter, in 2006, the Sub-Directorate of Underwater Archeology of the INAH formally initiated the research project of the entire wreck area, which, in nautical slang, is called wreck. And, from that year until 2018, Octavio del Río participated in the project leading the diving operations and participating in the archaeological record.

In all that time, Octavio says there was no problem in the investigation. Until, in 2017, an Argentine researcher, Nicolás Ciarlo, a doctor specializing in maritime archeology, was invited to the project, who a year later went on to co-lead the project with the researcher Laura Carrillo. 

As if decapitating a sculpture in a Museum

From this moment, Del Río narrates a series of negligence that caused damage to the wreck – known as ‘The Angel’, in memory of the fisherman Manuel Polanco and the captain of his boat -, which he documented in the period from 20 to 30 November 2018. 

The most striking complaint is that the INAH staff tied the ship’s buzarda, that is, a metal railing that survived almost 200 years under the sea and that was already lined with centennial corals, the buoy rope used to indicate on the surface the location of the wreck.

“It’s something I couldn’t believe: how could they tie a buoy to the archaeological remains ? – Del Rio asks incredulously. It is not necessary to be a doctor or have a great curriculum to know that this is not done, that it is a negligence ”. 

INAH Damaged A 200-Year-Old Ship Sunk In The Mexican Caribbean And Insists It Was Just An Accident

And indeed, tying a cape to the buzarda brought immediate consequences. One day, as a result of bad weather and sea currents, the Black Pearl , the vessel where the archaeologists and INAH staff traveled to reach the wreck, got stuck with the Jean’s location buoy . 

When Octavio says he went down to the seabed, the damage was already done. 

“ The rope tore off four meters of buzarda, which literally undid. What was left were the splinters of scrap iron and rust, while the coral that covered the metal was upside down on the seabed. ” 

“It may seem only a piece of iron,” Del Rio adds, “but the buzarda is the most important part of the ship ; It is the part that gives you all the information on the shape of the boat and features such as size and tonnage. It was a negligence that should never have happened. It’s as if you decapitate a sculpture in a museum because you tied a rope to your head. ”

Political Animal looked for Laura Carrillo, head of the project with Nicolás Ciarlo, to question him for this damage, and in an interview he said that tying a buoy to a part of the boat “did not affect anything at all” to the investigation, since that piece It was already documented and previously studied.

However, when this media asked whether tying a rope to part of the archaeological remains is a common procedure, the director of the underwater archeology division of INAH, Roberto Junco, admitted that “there could be a certain level of negligence” in that decision . Although the official insisted that the damage was the result of an accident, “of the many that may occur in an unstable environment such as the sea,” he described Del Río’s complaint as “an exaggeration .  “

“It is putting us as if we had destroyed The Main Temple . When, in fact, it is that one of the stones of the Temple fell ”, emphasized the official. 

Sandy shores impact the ship and the reefs

However, Del Río emphasizes that throughout the 12 years in which INAH formally initiated the investigation of the wreck in 2006, before the new co-responsible, Nicolás Ciarlo, arrived at the project, there were also days of storm surge and bad weather , and damage to the wreck had never been infringed, nor had other situations occurred such as throwing a “rain of sand sacks” on the archaeological remains.

The sacks are used to protect the parts of the sailboat that were exposed, after the researchers removed the sediment that covered them for centuries . The proper procedure, as Del Río explains, is that, supported by a diver who is in the water, the sacks are thrown from the boat in an area close to the wreck, so that other divers then take them to the boat. 

But what happened was that several of these sacks fell directly on the archaeological remains and on top of the coral reefs, as shown by multiple photographs and a video taken by Del Río. 

However, despite these images, Laura Carrillo said that the sacks fell ” in the vicinity ” of coral reefs, “never over them.”

“A photograph, depending on the meaning you want to give a speech, can be used in one way or another. But none of the eight people who are in the project have ever seen a sack fall on the reef, ”said Carrillo, who handed over to this medium other photographs showing the sacks lined up on the seabed, but away from the ship and of coral reefs. 

Another damage caused was that the anchor of the boat that carried INAH personnel along the wreck was dragged . There are more photographs taken by Del Río in which it can be seen that the anchor was stuck between the corals and between the ballast stones that the Jean carried, which were “full of life” because of the coral inlays that grew on them with the passage of the centuries 

“They passed an anchor over the corals and bugs that had grown over 200 years in a biosphere that is protected,” emphasizes Del Rio, who also took pictures of other corals damaged by a yellow hose that was used to dredge the wreck sediments. 

For this reason, Del Río states that the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) filed two complaints for possible damages in the protected area of ​​Banco Chinchorro – of which he provided the investigation file numbers to this medium – before the Attorney General’s Office of the Republic and the Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa).  

In fact, emphasizes the marine architect, CONANP has been the only institution that heard their complaints: neither the internal control body of the INAH , nor the Institute’s Aquatic Sub-Directorate , nor UNESCO at the international level, took them into account. 

INAH Damaged A 200-Year-Old Ship Sunk In The Mexican Caribbean And Insists It Was Just An Accident

On the contrary, says Del Río, what happened was that he was excluded from Jean’s investigation after reporting the damages. While UNESCO, at the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, held in Paris on June 21, rewarded the INAH for “good practices” at Banco Chinchorro , despite the fact that, two days before, Del Río sent him a letter narrating the damage caused in the wreck The Angel.

“We are not destroyers”

Animal Politician asked Roberto Junco why they excluded Octavio Del Río from the project, to which the official responded by assuring, first, that “ there is no type of veto ” towards the investigator, and second, that his exclusion was due to “problems of conduct ”of the architect, especially following the arrival to the project of the Argentine archaeologist Nicolás Ciarlo.

In fact, in a report that Laura Carrillo sent in May of this year to Roberto Junco, and in which the signature of Nicolás Ciarlo and other researchers appears, it is established that Del Río was excluded from the project because of “ lack of ethics , respect, solidarity and empathy ”with the project, noting that he also had responsibility in the“ unfortunate nautical maneuvers ”that caused the damage to the wreck.

“The information on what really happened is being maximized and manipulated to damage a project and the researchers who are part of it, even though we have an impeccable track record of 24 years of work,” said Carrillo, who insisted that ” no we are destroyers , as they want to make us see ”. 

In any case, beyond the magnitude of the damages and the crossing of accusations, the INAH Council of Archeology admitted in an official letter on September 24 that, in effect, the El Ángel wreck suffered “damages”, so He informed that the Aquatic Sub-Directorate will collaborate with the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas to compensate for the damages.

INAH Damaged A 200-Year-Old Ship Sunk In The Mexican Caribbean And Insists It Was Just An Accident

On the other hand, when asked about whether they analyze possible sanctions against the personnel of the Aquatic Subdirectorate of INAH that participates in the project of Banco Chinchorro for the damages caused to the ship Jean , Roberto Junco said that “everything is in the process of evaluation”. 

“We recognize the damages and we will comply with all the dispositions of the authorities to compensate the damages and to receive any type of observation, or of sanction, if it proceeded, although we insist that everything was due to an accident”, underlined the official.


Source: Animal Politico