By Annette Chrysostomou
Authorities will decide what to do with the artefacts confiscated from a cargo ship on December 23 once experts from Lebanon have examined them, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said on Monday.
The 57 crates with the finds were seized by police after they were tipped off about illegal treasure hunting by the offshore supply ship Odyssey Explorer. It is believed that the ship recovered them from a shipwreck in waters east of the island.
According to Alecos Michaelides, the transport ministry’s permanent secretary, the artefacts found on board the ship date to the 18th century.
Speaking after the cabinet meeting at the presidential residence in Troodos, Kasoulides explained that temporarily confiscating the boat was the correct procedure regardless of whether the artefacts were found in Cyprus’ or Lebanon’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), a fact that is still not clear. He said Cyprus had the obligation to investigate a ship with such a cargo, before granting it permission to depart.
“Whether in one EEZ or the other, the process of the temporary seizure of the ship and its contents will be the same. The Lebanese will come to air their views, we will hear from foreign experts as to where such cargo comes from and what its destination was,” he said.
Asked whether the ship may be handed over to the Lebanese authorities, Kasoulides replied “these are issues that we will have to see because they are preceded by a series of other tests. Depending on the findings, we will act according to the recommendation of the attorney-general.”
Antiquities department director Marina Solomidou-Ieronymidou supplied more details on the objects from the shipwreck.
“The artefacts have been recorded. Specifically 588 antiquities have been recorded that were found in 57 plastic crates while some objects were in a small fridge,” she told state radio on Monday.
“We are talking about a large number of historic artefacts. They are not specific to Cyprus. There are porcelain items, wooden items, some organic items, some spores and metal spoons,” she said.
She explained that other finds on board the Odyssey Explorer included items that would have been used by the crew of the wrecked ship.
“There were some Ottoman smoking pipes that probably belonged to the ship crew. It was a commercial ship that was transporting its cargo and sank. Possibly the cargo was going to all over Europe.”
The antiquities department director noted that no more details are known, and the department is working on the case with all authorities including police, the ministry of foreign affairs, legal services and customs.
Head of CID Ioannis Soteriades also talked about the expected arrival of the foreign experts.
“The authorities and the foreign ministry informed Interpol immediately of the evidence found, and archaeologists from Lebanon expressed an interest to visit Cyprus to see the objects,” he said.
He added that the finds had been photographed by archaeologists who will proceed with a laboratory examination in an attempt to verify their origin and pictures were also sent to Interpol.
For the time being, the items have been transferred to a storage facility at the customs office where they are being guarded until investigations are completed.
CyBC reported last week that the ship had been to Cyprus three times in the last three months.