NEWS

Fighting over the salvage of ancient wrecks

A new Merchant Marine Ministry law on recreational diving has provoked protests, particularly by archaeological authorities. The new law, aimed at developing diving tourism, was passed by both major parties. Its provisions introduce radical changes to the rules governing diving in Greece, including virtually abolishing the ban on diving in areas of major archaeological interest. According to the Merchant Marine Ministry, the new law will turn the country into an underwater paradise for amateurs and professional divers alike, bringing in more tourism revenue. Officials involved in drafting the law have accused the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities of idleness, as a result of which recreational divers have at their disposal just 120 «free» areas out of a total of 16,000. As they are all close to ports, they are not of great interest. Sources in the ephorate, which belongs to the Culture Ministry, say the law is a scandal since it does not take into consideration an archaeology law that is enshrined in the constitution and therefore has greater force. They also note that soon Greece will no longer be of any interest to divers since its underwater treasures will be easy game for antiquities smugglers. Professional divers have also expressed reservations, saying the bill is simply aimed at reaping revenue. They fear that their professional activities will be made more difficult since they will not only be answerable to the ministry but to accreditation officers of the Greek Standardization Organization (ELOT) and diving organizations. The conflict moved to Parliament where the ruling party rapporteur, Panos Kammenos, launched a harsh attack against an employee of the ephorate (he referred to a senior woman official there as a «mermaid»). He also hinted of bribes, saying «millions of euros were paid to free areas around (the island of) Kalymnos.» Kammenos actually lodged a suit against the particular official, who was acquitted by an Athens court.