Russia Finds Ancient Roman Ship in 'Excellent Condition' at Bottom of Sea

A team of Russian explorers has come across what is believed to be an ancient Roman ship that had survived for centuries at the bottom of the Black Sea.

Roman Dunayev, who led the Neptune diving expedition that found the vessel, said the discovery was the first of its kind off the coast of Crimea, which was once under the control of the Roman Empire. The wooden ship was reportedly located at a depth of over 252 feet near the Balaklava region of Sevastopol, a major Black Sea port city.

"We have found an ancient wooden sailing ship with a well-preserved anchor. The anchor suggests that the ship can be preliminarily dated to the Roman period. If it turns true, it is a unique find as it is the first Roman vessel found in Crimea in such an excellent condition," Dunayev told the state-run Tass Russian News Agency.

"The ship has retained its shape due to the unusual conditions at great depths in the Black Sea, with almost no light or oxygen," he added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin looks through a window of a research bathyscaphe while submerging into the waters of the Black Sea during an expedition near Sevastopol, Crimea, on August 18, 2015. Crimea has been under Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Mongol, Ottoman, Russian imperial and Ukrainian rule. Alexei Nikolsky/RIA Novosti/Kremlin/Reuters

Dunayev said his researchers would work to determine the approximate date of the ship's sinking. The Neptune expedition is funded via a presidential grant for the wider Crimea: A Crossroads of Civilizations project that launched in May and was set to conclude in October. From antiquity through the modern era, the Crimean Peninsula has been settled and ruled by a number of civilizations, including the Greeks, the Romans, Byzantines, the Mongols and the Ottomans.

The Romans controlled Crimea from 47 B.C. to around 340 A.D. and potential Roman ruins from the Black Sea were believed to have washed up in February on the shores of Turkey, which was also controlled by the Roman Empire around the same era. In September, an international expedition known as the Black Sea Maritime Project revealed dozens of Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman ships preserved in the waters of the Black Sea's low-oxygen dead zone off the coast of Bulgaria.

Dunayev has also previously been involved in major discoveries off the coast of Crimea. In 2015, his team found a suspected Byzantine-era ship that he said, if verified, could become "one of the biggest known finds to date," according to the Agence France-Presse. The discovery came just over a year after Crimea had switched hands once again in a controversial referendum opposed by Ukraine and the West in 2014.

Russia seized Crimea from the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century and held it for ages until transferring it to the Soviet satellite state of Ukraine in the 1950s. Ukraine retained control of Crimea as an autonomous republic after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, but Russia retook the region four years ago in the wake of a political uprising that saw Ukrainians oust a pro-Kremlin leader.

Moscow argued that the unrest threatened Crimea's majority-Russian ethnic population, but U.S.-led Western military alliance NATO and its allies accused Russia of violating Ukraine's sovereignty. The U.S. and its European allies have imposed sanctions against Russia over its continued control of Crimea and the issue has been a major point of divergence for President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.