Ancient Greek ships, dating back two millennia, are lying on the sea bottom off the coast of Albania, most of them originally laden with priceless antiquities that may have been looted.
Some amphorae have already been looted — they are not infrequently seen decorating restaurants along the Albanian coastline.
According to a recent Athens-Macedonian News Agency report, most of the wrecks are Ancient Greek, Roman and Illyric ships, often loaded with treasures.
Those long, narrow terracotta vessels carried olive oil and wine along trade routes between North Africa and the Roman Empire, where Albania, then Illyria, was a crossroad.
Authorities in Albania, have surveyed around one-third of the Albanian coast.
So far, they have discovered 38 previously unknown shipwrecks at the bottom of the Ionian Sea, including six boats that are at least 2,000 years old.
In total, the wrecks along the 220-mile stretch of coast date from the 6th century B.C. until World War II.
Some wrecks are protected within the boundaries of the Karaburun-Sazan Marine National Park; others are in unmarked locations just off Albania’s beaches.
Albania is trying to protect and capitalize on its rich underwater heritage, long neglected by its former communist regime, but preservation still receives scarce funding from the government in one of Europe’s poorest nations.
Ancient Greek ships in Albania may have been looted by antiquities traffickers
After the collapse of the Albanian Communist regime of Enver Hoxha, many of the precious shipwreck sites, with vessels carrying gold coins and priceless artifacts, have completely disappeared or been looted.
Illegal antiquities traffickers can make a fortune on the worldwide market for ancient art and artifacts. Inside Albania, an ancient amphora found in the sea can fetch 100 euros, but on the worldwide art and antiquities markets, its price can skyrocket, reaching hundreds of thousands of euros.
However, in June 2018, ancient shipwrecks in the Ionian and Aegean Seas received the designation of “National Cultural Heritage Treasures”, and according to new international regulations, researchers and divers must have a special permit to approach old shipwreck sites.
Authorities, archaeologists and historians in Albania have done their part to sound the alarm on the issue of the looting of underwater cultural artifacts.
But, despite the country’s economic growth and its good prospects for EU membership, Albania still lacks the funds needed to enforce the protection of the priceless archaeological treasures which still rest on the sea bottom off its coast.
Along with the ancient shipwrecks, modern ships that have sunk recently are salvaged from the bottom and sold on the black market for their rare metals. Newer vessels are sold for scrap metal.