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Dwarka remains to be protected as underwater world cultural heritage site
By
RAJESH KUMAR
http://www.indian-express.com/ie/daily/20000714/ina14051.html

NEW DELHI, JULY 13: Old shipwrecks -- like that of the Titanic -- which have been lying buried under the sea with their precious treasure along with the submerged city of Dwarka off the Gujarat coast, for centuries, could soon vie for the status of an underwater world cultural heritage site.

Over 200 experts from 84 countries, who gathered under the aegis of UNESCO in Paris recently to examine a draft convention on the issue, unanimously agreed that underwater cultural heritage was in urgent need of protection from destruction and pillaging.

Currently, structures or properties lying under water can not claim the status of cultural heritage. The absence of any protective mechanism has left them open to pillaging and destruction by treasure hunters and curious deep-sea divers. The experts agreed that the definition of cultural heritage needed to be expanded in order to protect underwater heritage as well.

The submerged city of Dwarka is believed to be an important site having both historical and cultural value for India. Legend has it that the remains -- the wall of a city is clearly visible while the rest is yet to be discovered -- are in fact, that of the ancient city of Dwarka mentioned in stories of Lord Krishna.

The Gujarat government and the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) are currently toying with the idea of creating a museum and an underwater viewing gallery once the structures have been protected. After that,Dwarka could also stake the claim for the coveted underwater world heritage status, UNESCO's South-East Asia office here said.

Experts agreed that salvaging operations did tend to be a free for all. Robert Grenier, director of the International Committee on Underwater Cultural Heritage of the International Council On Monuments and Sites, said that while salvage action gave people freedom to look for things, it disregarded the aspect of preserving cultural heritage.

Several British and French ships laden with precious treasure that had sunk on their way across the Atlantic ocean during their voyages in the 18th century have been plundered by the sea pirates for valuables. In fact, some of the ships that were believed to be of immense historical and cultural value for future generations have been completely stripped off all their components by pirates for their antique value. ``With rapid advancement in technology, deep-sea diving and gaining access to heavy articles buried with the shipwrecks has become easy and affordable for pirates. In the absence of any effective protection, these properties of immense historical and cultural value are being looted and vandalised,'' an expert from Canada said.

The wrecks at Louisberg Park in Nova Scotia off the Canadian coast are held up as a fine example of how the under water cultural treasures can also be protected with help of legislation and political will, much like other structures of the same importance. The French Ministry of culture too has come out with a comprehensive background material on the underwater cultural heritage that needs protection. The document also cites relevant laws under which they can be protected and how.

Representatives of the United Nations Division of Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea, the International Maritime Organisation, the International Seabed Authority and the World Underwater Federation, along with UNESCO, participated in the meeting.  

   

 

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