Twenty States have now ratified the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which therefore enters into force on 2 January 2009, three months after the deposit of the 20th instrument of acceptance.
“This is a very important step in the history of the safeguarding of cultural heritage,” declared Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO. “This represents an essential addition to UNESCO’s standard-setting apparatus. From now on, it will be possible to offer legal protection to the historical memory that is in underwater cultural heritage, thus curtailing the growing illicit trade by looters.”
The Convention, adopted in 2001 by UNESCO’s General Conference, aims to ensure more effective safeguarding of submerged shipwrecks and ruins. The international treaty represents the international community’s response to the increased looting and destruction of underwater cultural heritage, which is becoming ever more accessible to treasure hunters.
See the List of States Parties
The 2001 convention is based on four main principles:
the obligation to preserve underwater cultural heritage;
in situ preservation, i.e. under water, as a preferred option;
no commercial exploitation of this heritage; and
cooperation among States to protect this precious legacy, to promote training in underwater archeology, and to raise public awareness of the importance of sunken cultural property.
The Convention does not arbitrate ownership claims nor prejudice the jurisdiction or sovereignty of States. The Convention’s Annex establishes rules for activities directed at underwater sites; these rules are widely recognized by archeologists.
The Director-General of UNESCO will convene a meeting of States Parties to the Convention within one year of its entry into force and thereafter at least once every two years. The meeting of States Parties will establish its functions and responsibilities.
It may in addition establish a Scientific and Technical Advisory Body composed of experts who will make recommendations on scientific and technical issues..