Portuguese shipwrecks

Underwater exploring is banned in Brazil

By Marlise Simons - The New York Time

A dispute between the Brazilian Navy and an American marine archeologist has led Brazil to bar the diver from entering the country and to place a ban on all underwater exploration. 

The dispute involves Robert Marx, a Florida author and treasure hunter, who asserts that the Brazilian Navy dumped a thick layer of silt on the remains of a Roman vessel that he discovered inside Rio de Janeiro's bay. 

The reason he gave for the Navy's action was that proof of a Roman presence would require Brazil to rewrite its recorded history, which has the Portuguese navigator Pedro Alvares Cabral discovering the country in 1500.

The Brazilian Navy has denied that it covered up the site and has in turn charged Mr. Marx with "contraband" of objects recovered from other wrecks in this country.

Because of this, Navy officials said, the Government had issued an order "to prohibit him from entering Brazil."

To substantiate these charges, the Brazilian officials showed a catalogue of an auction held in Amsterdam in 1983 in which, they said, gold coins, instruments and artifacts removed from shipwrecks in Brazil were offered for sale on behalf of Mr. Marx and his associates. The officials said many of these objects had not been reported on the divers' inventory, contrary to an agreement with Mr. Marx.

'Don't Bother Me'

Several attempts to give Mr. Marx the opportunity to respond to these charges were unsuccessful. One phone call ended abruptly when Mr Marx said, "Don't bother me," and then hung up.

All other permits for underwater exploration and digging, a prolific field in Brazil, have been canceled as a result of the Marx controversy and none will be issued until Congress passes new legislation, Navy officials said. Although the decision was taken a year ago, it was not publicized and only became known as a result of new inquiries into the Marx case.

The ban has affected a number of projects in Brazil's harbors and along its 4,600-mile coastline. Mainly foreign diving teams have discovered a panoply of gold and silver objects, but most of the sites, though known, remain unexplored.

In Guanabara Bay of Rio de Janeiro, more than 100 English, French and Portuguese shipwrecks lie unexplored like the pages of an unread, underwater history book.

But few spots seem to have aroused as much interest and intrigue here as the remains of a ship that struck a reef some 15 miles inside Rio de Janeiro's bay.