France is investigating the plundering of an ancient shipwreck discovered in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea.
The 2,200-year-old vessel was discovered by archeologists in 2017. A recent official exploration of the wreck revealed that unauthorized divers had reached it first, damaging the structure and plundering the rare clay containers stored within.
The ship, dubbed the Fort Royal 1, is believed to have sunk or lost its cargo near Sainte-Marguerite, one of the Lerins islands off the coast of Cannes, during the second century BCE. It carried amphoras, or tall Greek and Roman jars used to store wine.
“Well-conserved wrecks from this period are particularly rare,” said a joint statement from the department of marine archaeology in the French culture ministry and Marseille authorities. “That’s why the opportunity to study the wooden body and the cargo is absolutely exceptional.”
“The losses of scientific and historical information are probably significant,” the statement continued. In response to the “ransacking of a major heritage site,” sailing and mooring around the wreck is now prohibited and an emergency preservation operation has been launched. Conservationists are currently on the scene assessing the damage.
The merchant vessel was discovered in 2017 by leading French marine archaeologists Anne and Jean-Pierre Joncheray, who dedicated decades to the search for shipwrecks in the Mediterranean. Jean-Pierre died in 2020.
The Joncherays found 17 urns in what they called a “remarkable” condition and continued to excavate the Fort Royal 1, which is named after a fortress on Sainte-Marguerite Island, until 2019. At this time, it’s unclear how many wine containers were looted or damaged.