Dear Florence Malraux, Mr Deputy, Mr Bernard Deflesselles, Mr Mayor of La Ciotat, Mr Patrick Boré, Mr Maritime Prefect of the Mediterranean, Vice-Admiral Yann Tanguy, Mr General Curator of Heritage and Director of the Department of Underwater and Underwater Archaeological Research, dear Michel L'Hour, Mr President of iXCore, dear Hervé Arditty, Ladies and Gentlemen
I am particularly pleased and moved to take part in this baptism ceremony of André Malraux, who succeeds his brother in arms, the Archéonaute, after fifty years of loyal service.
Dear Florence Marlraux, your father understood very quickly the stakes of archaeology and the particular vulnerability of underwater archaeological remains. He hoped that France would be a pioneer in identifying and defending them against the destructive curiosity of wreck lovers and treasure hunters. To share with the greatest number the riches left forgotten under the seas as a result of storms, shipwrecks, military or commercial conflicts, or even that of abandoned inhabited sites as a result of the alterations of the coastline: this was the aim he had in creating a service specifically dedicated to underwater archaeological research in 1966, the Department of Underwater Research (DRASSM), which he endowed the following year with the Archéonaute, the vessel that has faithfully accompanied the HMIRA in its operations from 1967 to 2007.
Out of breath, the Archéonaute stopped its operations. It seemed essential that he had an heir so that the DRASSM did not lose the valuable instrument of his research. As soon as I arrived, I defended the project undertaken by Christine Albanel to start the construction of a new ship, under the management of DRASSM.
The curious, even some predators, have not finished, far from it, to be interested in the remains of the great meal of history. Children’s dreams and lucrative instincts continue to gaze at the depths of our sunken memories, and the State must be able to continue its vigilance.
In the exercise of its missions, the Ministry of Culture and Communication is often at the crossroads of the most diverse techniques and know-how: the trades of the restoration of the National Furniture, crafts, the use of synchrotrons to analyse varnishes and old paintings…
The long time of tradition crosses the cutting edge technologies. The construction of a boat is probably one of the most unexpected and original achievements that I have been given to drive.
With archaeological research, the restoration of monuments, the construction of cultural facilities, my ministry is creating jobs – jobs that are all the more beneficial to our economy as they are not easily relocated. Mr Prefect, like you, I am therefore particularly pleased that this boat has also contributed to the activity of the shipyards of La Ciotat. Even before sailing, the André Malraux is already a mark of pride and confidence in the future, and I want to salute all the workers without who participated in its construction. Building a boat is one of man’s oldest achievements; I am proud today that it can be used to reclaim his history.
I very much hope that this vessel, a prototype particularly designed for underwater exploration, will be the first of a series and that other countries, like us, will want to equip themselves with such equipment.
In the field of underwater research, France is one of the pioneer countries. Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s work and his decisive contribution to the improvement of scuba diving equipment had an immediate impact on underwater archaeology. And if France is a pioneer in this field, it is largely thanks to André Malraux, as well as to the successive directors of DRASSM. Here, of course, I salute Michel L'Hour, its current director, for his continued commitment to the defence of our underwater heritage and his contribution to the surveillance operations of our public maritime domain. As you said, Mr.Prefect, the DRASSM is part of the surveillance network of the State at sea, and we are proud to be able to support it. However, our brand new boat, which I understand very well that you dream of using it, will nevertheless have to focus on the main missions of the DRASSM, which I quote here because they are in my eyes priority: the identification of the sub-remainsthe development of the underwater archaeological map, the identification of wrecks declared by divers, and the monitoring of State-authorized underwater archaeological excavations.
A program to use the boat has been developed by DRASSM, compatible with its progressive running-in and the need to test its capabilities in various contexts and climates; this program will start next month. There will remain in the year periods when the André Malraux will not be used by the DRASSM: it will then be able to contribute its share to the collective effort of surveillance of our public maritime domain.
By recently adding the underwater heritage, in other words river and lake archaeology, to the competencies of the DRASSM, we wanted to reinforce a continuity: that of all the missions of my ministry in terms of archaeology, under water and on land. Whether it is the extraction of materials offshore, in the riverbed, port developments, the passage of networks at sea, not to mention the creation of off-shore wind turbinesShore, the construction and development have never threatened archaeological remains as much as in our time. It is our duty to make every effort to locate these remains, to know them, to preserve them and possibly to search them.
The realization of this boat is a great opportunity to give back to DRASSM a new dynamism in its mission of vigilance.
DRASSM, for my ministry and for France, is also a tool for cooperation and an illustration of our know-how in the field of underwater archaeology. Given the extent of our maritime public domain, which covers almost all the world’s oceans, its teams are called upon to intervene in all latitudes. We have thanks to you a mobile embassy, both attractive because it is at the service of culture, and scientifically competent. The search for the wreck of La Pérouse, the success of the Texas exhibition of the remains of "La Belle", the suspense that still surrounds the identification of the wreck of Cavelier de la Salle’s "Griffon", sunk in Lake Ontario, the success of the travelling exhibition “The Sea for Remembrance”, which welcomed more than 250,000 visitors, attests to the continued public interest in this heritage and its history in all countries.
In this area, our legislation is part of the legacy of Roman law and the Marine Ordinance published at Fontainebleau in August 1681 by Colbert. Modernized since then, it has not aged in its principles: the maintenance of the right of ownership of the shipowner and owners of the property on the stranded ship and its cargo, and that of the State by default when the wreck is not claimed. It is in the name of this principle that we claim today, whatever the place of their sinking over the centuries, the ownership of French ships rediscovered from the bottom of the seas.
In liaison with the Heritage Service, you have played an important role in advancing the interdepartmental process of ratification of the November 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Heritage, which recognises the ability of States Parties to protect the underwater heritage present in their territorial waters and the adjacent area. This convention establishes a specific cooperation regime between States to protect this heritage, including in their exclusive economic zone and on the continental shelf. It declares maritime heritage properties not likely to be marketed; it makes their discovery subject to a declaration obligation, and lays the foundations for an intervention respectful of the principles of archaeology for the operations of excavations sub-limiting the movement of the remains and their removal from the water for purposes other than scientific.
Entered into force in 2009 and currently ratified by 38 countries, this convention will strengthen the fight against trafficking and looting. However, it is based above all on a collective awareness - Jacques-Yves Cousteau said, "people protect and respect what they love, and to make them love the sea, they must be amazed as well as informed."
This commitment is also based on the collaboration between all the stakeholders of the nautical activities: the amateur divers, the services of the State at sea, the transporters and the fishermen, the enterprises working in a sub-sailors, boaters... all may one day discover an element of underwater heritage. It can range from the simple historical witness, like this Australian fighter plane shot down in the last war and discovered recently in the English Channel, to the most priceless assets, like Lava’s Roman currency treasury, plundered shamelessly for decades and which we have recently partially recovered.
The baptism that brings us together is the symbol of a commitment of the State. André Malraux is elegance and strength at the service of heritage. For the DRASSM teams, I am sure he will be the worthy successor of the Archéonaute.