Italy participates with experts from the Ministry of Culture in the first multilateral underwater archaeological mission, under the auspices of UNESCO, on Banco Skerki and in the Strait of Sicily. The mission sees the participation of international underwater archaeologists on board the ship “Alfred Merlin”, made available by the Department of Underwater Archaeological Research of the French Ministry of Culture (DRASSM), with economic and logistical resources provided by the countries involved. The mission preparation process, launched in 2018 by Italy and Tunisia pursuant to the 2001 UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, involves 8 states including Tunisia, as coordinator in the Banco area Skerki present on the Tunisian continental shelf, and Italy as coordinator on our continental shelf and in the Strait of Sicily, Algeria, Croatia, Egypt, France, Morocco and Spain. Due to the particular interest given the geographical location of Banco Skerki, Italy has not failed to provide its contribution throughout all the preparatory stages of the initiative, which the whole of UNESCO looks to with particular attention and interest.
The Foreign Ministry oversaw the coordination of the delicate final stages of preparation, in particular as regards the granting of permits on the Tunisian side and the negotiation of the complex agreement reached between the participating countries only on the eve of the Mission’s departure. After a technical stop in the port of Trapani, on 24 August Merlin began activities in the Strait of Sicily, on the Italian continental shelf, concentrating on the area where the American team, led by Robert Ballard, identified, in the late 1980s and ’90s, a dozen wrecks of ancient and post-ancient age, now explored by means of an ROV called Arthur, designed for the archaeological exploration of these deep waters. On this occasion, the ROV went up to about 850 meters deep. Subsequently, the ship headed to areas gravitating to the Tunisian side of Banco Skerki, to carry out instrumental reconnaissance in shallower depths and in areas with high archaeological potential. The results of the multilateral mission will be presented to UNESCO in the autumn in Paris and will form the basis for the drafting of future plans for the knowledge and protection of the areas being explored.