Bulgarian MPs Move to Protect Sunken Black Sea Ships as Underwater Archaeology Sites

A satellite image of Bulgaria's Black Sea coast from Google Maps.

A satellite image of Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast from Google Maps.

Several Members of the Bulgarian Parliament have signed a petition requesting from three government ministries and three parliamentary committees a policy change designed to protect sunken ships and other objects along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast as underwater archaeology sites.

The MPs, who come from several parties, are disputing a 2011 ordinance of the Bulgarian Ministry of Transport and ICT which provides opportunities for the extraction of “sunken property" in Bulgaria’s territorial waters and waterways, reports Burgas News.

The petitioning MPs are insisting that the ordinance be amended by exempting from it sunken vessels that have turned into artificial reefs with rich flora and fauna and/or are sites for underwater archaeology and tourism as part of Bulgaria’s commercial, maritime, and military history.

They point to the example of a number of other EU member states with special legislation encouraging the utilization of old ships or other facilities as artificial reefs not only as underwater archaeology and tourism attractions but also as breeding grounds for underwater flora and fauna.

The MPs are especially concerned about plans for the extraction of the metal remains of a ship called SS Campidoglio, an Italian merchant vessel wrecked in February 1931 near the Cape of Akin close to the Bulgarian town of Chernomorets en route from Trieste to Odessa as well as other vessels.

Location of the ship wreck of Italian commercial vessel Campidoglio off Bulgaria's Black Sea in 1931. Map by wrecksite.eu

Location of the ship wreck of Italian commercial vessel Campidoglio off Bulgaria’s Black Sea in 1931. Map by wrecksite.eu

A total of 30 known sunken ships in the Bulgarian territorial waters in the Black Sea are thus threatened with extraction, the MPs warn.

They point to a successful example from 2008 when a former fishing vessel called The Pioneer was submerged near the resort town of Sozopol, and has become a major underwater tourist attraction for divers as well as a home for retreating species such as the common stingray and tub gurnard.

Another successful example, even though it does not involve a ship but a plane, is the case with the plane of Bulgaria’s former Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, which was submerged in 2011 near the Saints Constantine and Helena resort and has been used as an attraction for divers ever since.

In their petition, the MPs point out that the low salinity and low oxygen content in the Black Sea are a great prerequisite for the preservation of sunken vessels, and that Bulgarian archaeologists and historians are yet to explore the Bulgarian waters for ancient and prehistoric vessels and artifacts.

They also note some of the known cases of sunken ships from the 20th century that have become an important part of the underwater landscape along Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.

In addition to the 1931 wreck of the Campidoglio, these include vessels such as SS Mopang, an American cargo steamer sunk by mine at the entrance of Bulgaria’s Gulf of Burgas in 1921; SS Jacques Fraissinet, which sank 30 meters off the Bulgarian coast in 1929; SS Rodina, a Bulgarian steamship that struck a mine and sank 25 miles off Burgas in 1941; MV Safak, a Turkish dredger sank by a Soviet submarine torpedo off Zarevo, Bulgaria, while en route from Istanbul to Burgas in 1942; Soviet submarine Sht-210, which was sunk in 1942, most probably by a German submarine, off the Bulgarian coast; among others.

The petitioning MPs declare their readiness to help compile a full list of the sunken vessels and other underwater objects of archaeological, historical, and environmental importance along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast which should be protected from extraction. They say the existing Transport Ministry ordinance needs an amendment outlining the exemptions because in its present form it is used as a pretext for extracting metal ship remains and selling them for scrap.