The Black Sea keeps the most intimate secrets - both of ancient and modern times, says Serhiy Voronov, one of the leading specialists in underwater exploration, an official representative of Ukraine in the UNESCO International Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, deputy chairman of the Union of Ukrainian Archeologists and director of the Crimean Republican Institution "Black Sea Underwater Research Center".
In an exclusive interview with a UKRINFORM reporter, he told about the most intimate secrets of the Black Sea.
Q.: Finding the Armenia passenger ship wrecked in World War II could become the biggest international sensation...
A.: This will be our sixth expedition to search for the Armenia ship, which was sunk by German aviation Nov. 7, 1941. According to various estimates, on board the passenger/cargo ship there were 5,000 to 7,000 people, other figures say 10,000. Only eight passengers managed to escape.
It remains to examine two small squares. One of them is about in the abeam area at Swallow's Nest, the second - near Artek. We can see a very large dispersion and water area for examination. This is due to the fact that there are different coordinates of the ship wreckage. German pilots reported some coordinates, Soviet sources - other.
Using different equipment, over five years we have virtually 'climbed round' all of the squares of the alleged wreckage of the ship. Two small squares have left, they were not available because the depth here is more than 1.5 kilometers.
Finding Armenia will be a major event in the international arena, for the number of victims on this boat is four times higher than on the famous Titanic. This will reveal one of the great mysteries of World War II, which the world community knows almost nothing about. We want the government to grant the Armenia ship a status of an international maritime memorial, as a place of great loss of life. This status will be given to the wrecked ships for the first time.
Q.: In addition to Armenia, at the bottom there is also one more ship, The Communist, sunk in 1942.
A.: The Communist was listed as missing in action, we have discovered it. It wrecked in the second defense of Sevastopol in 1942, en route from Novorossiysk to the besieged Sevastopol. This year, with the help of divers, we stumbled on this vessel. It was identified by a number of body features, namely a pipe of rather original form, as well as elements of the superstructure.
The ship was carrying to Sebastopol armored vehicles, artillery, vehicles, and disassembled aircraft.
All this should be in good condition, maybe even in an operational form, since it stored in boxes, under a layer of lubrication. This is, by and large, a collection for a museum, especially since many models of World War II equipment did not live to see this day.
A large depth of 113 meters, at which the vessel was found, has kept it from being looted by "black archeologists".
Its holds are all crammed with machinery, as evidenced by underwater photography we made. We want to examine the condition of the vessel.
Q.: What other secrets - ancient, Byzantine, and present day - are kept in the Black Sea?
A.: It is assumed that at the bottom of the Black Sea there are over 2,500 wrecked ships, but only about 10 percent of them are known. The first ships off the coast of Crimea appeared somewhere in the XVI century BC and the oldest ancient ship, found by our expedition, dates from V century BC. It turns out that we do not have information about the period of more than a thousand years. For ships were definitely sinking.
I want note that the ancient ship, found by our expedition, has nothing to do with the finding of Odesa archaeologists at the Serpent Island - they found a vessel belonging to the IV century BC.
To be clear, the dating of ancient and medieval ships is made according to ceramics - these are amphorae, which roughly every 25 years changed their appearance. Therefore we make dating as close to accurate. So, amphorae, which were unveiled at the Serpent Island, belong to the IV century BC, and that found by our expedition - to the V century.
We discovered the ship almost by accident, we tested the equipment and lifted the remote-controlled machine to a depth of seven meters, where researches have never been conducted before. And we found this antique ship. We even think that this is the wreck of two ships, as there we found an amphora of the last quarter of the IV century, and this is simply impossible on the same ship. So, two ships broke there.
In general, I would say that the leaders until this year were the Americans, who in 2006 came upon the ship of IV century AD off the coast of Turkey - it was a record. No one has ever found the older ships in the Black Sea. That record held until 2012, while almost at the same time scientists found ancient vessels near the Serpent Island and off the coast of Crimea. Now we are in the lead in this field.
We also want, after a long break, to visually re-examine using a remotely operated underwater vehicle a Byzantine medieval ship - a huge wooden boat of the XI-XII century, which is located at a depth of 126 meters in front of the Cape Foros near Sevastopol. Its safety - 70%, and given that the vessel stayed under water for a thousand years, you will nowhere find such a quality of the preserved ship. Neither in the Mediterranean nor the Aegean Sea. We are happy that such a vessel in a single copy remained in the Black Sea off the coast of Crimea, thanks to the sulfuric water layer.
Q.: Research means, apparently, a serious technical equipment?
A.: Till March 1, 2013 we will be repairing our flagship research vessel, which is called “Clotho”, named after one of the Greek goddesses of fate.
Also, we are going to put into operation a new search, underwater archaeological equipment. This is a side-scan sonar, which is able to work to the full depth of the Black Sea, up to 2,200 meters and the remote-controlled underwater vehicle “Panther”.
Now our center employs not only archaeologists, but also engineers, since operation of new and modern technology requires special technical knowledge. Our experts will study abroad in the Netherlands and the UK.
The remote-controlled underwater vehicle "Panther" was produced in the UK. The advantage of this device is that it can operate at depths of up to 600 meters and replace man at depth. We ordered special tools for it with seven degrees of freedom. These are brushes for removing sludge, a pump for removing soil, a vacuum cup to load findings into the lift to the surface. Man's presence under water is not necessary, the robot will perform even the jewelry work. Yet none of the Black Sea countries has such a robot, so for some time we will be leading in this field. There are already orders for exploration, we also found at the bottom of the Black Sea a huge amount of methane fountains, which is interesting to geologists.