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Underwater cultural heritage and the market: the uncertain fate of historic sunken warships under international law

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Publication date8/01/2014
Host publicationArt, cultural heritage and the market: ethical and legal issues
EditorsValentina Vadi, Hildegard Schneider
Place of PublicationHeidelberg
Number of pages36
ISBN (Electronic)9783642450945
ISBN (Print)9783642450938
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The recovery of historic sunken military vessels raises a number of legal issues, including those of ownership, state immunity, preservation of cultural heritage and military defence. Maritime powers hold that sunken warships are immune from the jurisdiction of countries other than the flag state and that military property is never abandoned unless by explicit consent. Therefore, they insist on a rule that would require the consent of the flag state even in the case of activities directed at a wreck located in the territorial waters of other states. Other countries, however, contend that such an approach would unduly limit the sovereignty of the coastal states. Given the recent technological developments and the recovery of more and more military vessels, an analysis and critical assessment of the relevant legal issues and emerging case law could not be timelier. In fact, notwithstanding the historical, military and geopolitical relevance of sunken military vessels, a regime complex governs these shipwrecks at the international law level, leaving many legal issues unsettled. It remains to be seen whether the firm and uniform approach of maritime powers may determine the crystallisation of a norm of customary law.