Treasure Hunters Looting Bulgaria’s Black Sea Underwater Archaeology Riches As Well, Diving Instructor Reveals

Bulgaria's picturesque northern Black Sea coast is becoming increasingly popular with Bulgarian and foreign tourists alike. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

Bulgaria’s picturesque northern Black Sea coast is becoming increasingly popular with Bulgarian and foreign tourists alike. Photo: ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com

The rampant treasure hunting which affects pretty much every single known archaeological site in Bulgaria apparently also does damage to the country’s underwater archaeology potential in the Black Sea.

An unknown sunken ship located at a depth of 16-17 meters between Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna and the Black Sea town of Balchik has been looted by underwater treasure hunters, reveals Orlin Tsanev, a well known diving instructor based in Varna, in an interview for the Bulgarian state-owned news agency BTA.

“To the north of Varna, near Balchik, there is a wonderful sunken ship. There is no information about when it sank and what business it had in Bulgarian waters. Despite that, however, when the news about the ship became known, underwater treasure hunters looted it immediately,” Tsanev says.

Underwater treasure hunting is a huge problem but it will be hard to cope with it because we have no regulations,” he adds.

The diving inspector is well known because at his initiative the government plane used by Bulgaira’s former communist dictator Todor Zhivkov (r. 1954/6-1989), a Tu-154, was submerged in the Black Sea back in 2011, about 700 meters away from the St. Constantine and St. Helena Resort, in order to create an artificial reef and a diving attraction.

“When there is good visibility, the old plane enjoys lots of visitors. It has turned into a marvelous artificial reef,” Tsanev says.

He thinks the Bulgarian government must encourage this type of projects because Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast presently has only two artificial reefs – the former communist dictator Todor Zhivkov’s plane off the coast of Varna, and a ship sunken off the coast of Sozopol in the south.

Tsanev explains that a lot of foreign tourists, mostly from the UK, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania, come to Bulgaria for diving in the Black Sea.

In his words, the foreign divers find the submerged Tu-154 airplane especially appealing.

The submerging of the government plane of Bulgaria's former communist dictator Todor Zhivkov in the Black Sea off the coast of Varna back in 2011 in order to create an artificial reef and a diving attraction. Photos: Petel

The submerging of the government plane of Bulgaria’s former communist dictator Todor Zhivkov in the Black Sea off the coast of Varna back in 2011 in order to create an artificial reef and a diving attraction. Photos: Petel

Former communist dicator's plane submerged in the Black SeaOther popular underwater archaeology sites in the Black Sea waters off the coast of Bulgaria’s Varna, i.e. the Bay of Varna, which are also frequented by foreign tourists are from World War II.

These include several sunken barges, a sunken tanker, and three sunken submarines.

Tsanev points out that there is a growing interest in diving at underwater archaeology sites in Bulgaria by both the foreign visitors and the Bulgarians, with most divers preferring depths of between 10 and 30 meters.

“[The Black Sea] is very beautiful. It was terrific sites and reefs suitable for underwater photography as long as there is visibility,” says the diving instructor.

He elaborates that the main problem for the diving in the Black Sea is its the sea’s “character”, namely, the low visibility, the currents, and the temperature differences between the water layers during the summer which might range from 22 degrees Celsius to 5-6 degrees Celsius.

The upside of these conditions is that they make the Black Sea a very good training ground for beginning divers.

Tsanov has noted that the development of diving as a form of cultural tourism in Bulgaria is hampered by the outdated or non-existent legislation, and has urged the establishment of straightforward regulations.

Also check out some of our other stories about underwater archaeology in Bulgaria’s Black Sea section as well as other parts of the Black Sea:

Bulgaria’s Oceanology Institute Finds Sunken Galley, Explores 500-Year-Old Pirate Ship in Black Sea

Underwater Archaeologists from Bulgaria, UK, USA, Sweden, Greece Launch ‘Black Sea Maritime Archaeology Project’

Greek Research Vessel Arrives in Bulgaria’s Port Varna for Underwater Archaeology Expedition in Black Sea

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

Underwater Archaeology Harbors Great Tourism Potential for Bulgaria, Expert Says

Bulgarian, Romanian Archaeologists Find Sunken Wooden Ships, Soviet U-Boats in Underwater Explorations

Large Sunken Byzantine Ship Discovered in Black Sea off the Coast of Sevastopol on Crimean Peninsula

Background Infonotes:

Treasure hunting and illegal trafficking of antiques have been rampant in Bulgaria after the collapse of the communism regime in 1989 (and allegedly before that). Estimates vary but some consider this the second most profitable activity for the Bulgarian mafia after drug trafficking. One recent estimate suggests its annual turnover amounts to BGN 500 million (app. EUR 260 million), and estimates of the number of those involved range from about 5 000 to 200 000 – 300 000, the vast majority of whom are impoverished low-level diggers.