The company Arqueonautas says it discovered and reported to Cape Verdean authorities about 90 shipwrecks between 1995 and 2002.
Nikolaus Graf Sandizell, the chairman of the board of directors of Arqueonautas, sent a statement to Lusa news agency responding to the allegations made by Alexandre Monteiro (UNL researcher and technical/scientific consultant at Cape Verde's Cultural Heritage Institute) according to which the commercial exploitation of the Cape Verdean Sea was a "catastrophic" experience.
From 1995 to 2002, Arqueonautas had an agreement with the Cape Verdean Government for the recovery of shipwrecks in the Cape Verdean Sea. During this period, the company reported about 90 shipwrecks.
According to a Lusa news report released on Tuesday, Monteiro said that after being occasionally sacked by citizens, divers and fishermen, the ships became the target of a large-scale "treasure hunt," first by South African company Afrimar and then by German-Portuguese firm Arqueonautas Worldwide.
This "looting," the researcher claims, had been authorized by Cape Verde's government because it was supposed to benefit the state through the recovery of otherwise inaccessible objects, training, museums, etc.
But according to the researcher, the result of the partnership was that part of Cape Verde's underwater cultural heritage was sold to affluent collectors at Sotheby's and Christie's auctions: virtually no compensation was paid for these sales, and Cape Verde's museums received a negligible number of pieces.
According to Nikolaus Graf Sandizell, the word "looting" is "completely inadequate." "We are talking about an underwater archaeological intervention that was authorized by the Government, with appropriate methodologies and on-site conservation facilities," he says.
"All rescued artifacts were preserved and restored at the Conservation and Museology Center, and most of the recovered cultural objects remained in the City of Praia," the statement reads.
According to the Arqueonautas chairman, "the few artifacts that were allowed to be exported were publicly auctioned, and the proceeds were used in further rescue expeditions and for converting the Conservation Center into a museum."
"Some artifacts were kept by Arqueonautas as part of a research collection," the statement reads.
According to Nikolaus Graf Sandizell, during the period in which the agreement with the Cape Verdean government was in force (from 1995 to 2002), "Arqueonautas discovered and reported about 90 shipwrecks, both contemporary and historical, in the country's waters."
"Of these, the company rescued and recovered eight shipwrecks which had been previously looted, as is known to local fishermen," whereas "eight others underwent limited research so as to survey and identify them."