Twenty States* have now ratified the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which therefore will enter 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.
The 2001 convention is based on four main principles: the obligation to preserve underwater cultural heritage; in situ preservation, i.e. underwater, 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.
Underwater cultural heritage is enormously varied and rich. It is estimated that over 3 million shipwrecks are scattered on the ocean floors of the planet. Many sites have been located, including the ruins of the Alexandria lighthouse and Cleopatra’s palace (Egypt), part of ancient Carthage (Tunisia), and Jamaica’s Port Royal, destroyed by an earthquake in 1692. Underwater cultural heritage also includes entire landscapes and rock art caves now at the bottom of the sea.
*Barbados, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Croatia, Cuba, Ecuador, Lebanon, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Lithuania, Mexico, Montenegro, Nigeria, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Romania, Saint Lucia, Slovenia, Spain, Ukraine.
- More about the Convention
Agnès Bardon, Bureau of Public Information Tel : + 33 (0) 1 45 68 17 64