The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (2001) aims to enable States to better protect their submerged cultural heritage. The Convention sets out basic principles and practical rules for the protection and research of underwater cultural heritage, with a detailed State cooperation system .

The main principles are:

  • An obligation to preserve Underwater Cultural Heritage, according to the capabilities of the State. The Convention encourages scientific research and public access.
  • In Situ preservation as the first option: the preservation of underwater cultural heritage in its original location on the seafloor should be considered as the first option before allowing or engaging in any further activities. The recovery of objects may, however, be authorized for the purpose of making a significant contribution to the protection or knowledge of underwater cultural heritage.
  • No Commercial Exploitation: for trade or speculation – it does not prevent archaeological research or tourist access.
  • Training and information sharing: States Parties shall cooperate and exchange information, promote training in underwater archaeology and promote public awareness.

Implicit in this Convention, States are also obliged to help their armed forces protect underwater cultural heritage from Navy vessels and combat at sea, as well as the ever-present threat of looting during conflict.

Wreck of the cargo ship E. Russ, Estonia

© Photo by Juha Flinkman, SubZone OY (Muinsuskaitseamet) CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Read more about the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage on UNESCOs website (or see the list of signatories)

Return to the Blue Shield Overview of Treaty Law

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