Following a public consultation process into the protection provided to wrecked military vessels, in particular Military Maritime Graves, Dr Lewis Moonie, Under Secretary of State for Defence has approved the following recommendations:
- That a limited number of vessels sixteen (16), within UK jurisdiction, which meet the criteria and are representative of all others lost, will be designated as Controlled Sites and five (5) vessels in international waters deemed to be at immediate and significant risk will be designated as Protected Places , and;
- That a rolling programme of identification and assessment against the criteria be established to designate all other British vessels, in military service when lost, as Protected Places.
The overall effect of the above recommendations is that, on completion of the rolling programme, all vessels, in particular all Military Maritime Graves that meet the criteria will be designated. Regardless of whether the designation takes the form of a Controlled Sites or Protected Places, all designated vessels will be protected from unauthorised disturbance. It will be an offence to disturb or remove items from or in any way tamper with or remove artefacts from a Controlled Site or Protected Place. In some cases offences could attract fines of £5,000.
The number of Controlled Sites has been determined by geographical location and the practicalities of enforcing UK legislation in international waters; and within UK jurisdiction the effect that imposing exclusion zones would have on commercial and sporting activities, for example fishing, and associated industries.
It is acknowledged that there is a lobby in favour of the designation of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse and all other vessels as Controlled Sites. Designation in international waters would however, only be enforceable against British citizens and British Flag vessels. The designation of these vessels as Controlled Sites would not restrict or limit the activities of other nationals, for example, from countries who contributed to the vessels loss but would prohibit relatives who were British citizens from visiting and diving on the sites. It is therefore recommended that when any vessel outside UK jurisdiction is designated that designation take the form of a Protected Place.
That, in addition to other factors which the Secretary of State may wish to consider when determining the suitability of a military vessel for designation under the PMRA, for example, safety the following criteria will also be considered:
a. whether or not lives were lost;
b. whether or not there is evidence of sustained disturbance or looting (and the strength of such evidence);
c. whether or not designation is likely to curb or put a stop to such disturbance or looting;
d. whether or not diving on the vessel or site attracts sustained and significant public criticism;
e. whether not the vessel if of historical significance.
- That the criteria will be reviewed periodically and published in guidance notes to divers and other sea users and made available to interested parties.
- That other designations as Controlled Sites will be made if vessels are subject to stained disturbance or are considered dangerous.
- That assessment of applications for licences for activities on Controlled Sites will be made on a case-by-case basis and limited to appropriate activities.
- That licences will be introduced for activities directed at the small number of proposed Controlled Sites.
- That licensing charges will be introduced if a significant number of Controlled Sites are designated.
- That a licensing regime permitting lawful commercial non-diving activities should be established if in the future a significant number of designations as Controlled Sites become necessary.
- That procedures be set in place for notifying through, for example, media or Royal Naval Association interested parties of forthcoming designations.
- That the feasibility of supplying information panel at coastal locations providing details of designated Controlled Sites should be examined.
A list of vessels to be designated as Controlled Sites is at Annex B to the Consultation Report.
- That guidance notes to divers and other sea users be published.
A full summary of recommendations can also be found at Annex A to the Consultation Report.
Introduction1. The activities of recreational divers and other sea users in the vicinity of wrecked military vessels have recently given rise to an increase in public and Parliamentary concern and MoD decided to review the policy regarding the protection of military wrecks. On 14 February 2001, the Ministry of Defence published a consultation paper titled "Military Maritime Graves and the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986" [Adobe PDF].
2. Over three hundred copies of the document were distributed to MPs, individuals, groups and organisations that expressed an interest in the subject. Seventy-eight replies were received. The breakdown is as follows:
- 29 representing diving interests
- 14 representing survivor associations/relatives
- 10 representing archaeological interests
- 10 from members of the public
- 9 representing commercial and fishing interests
- 4 from MPs
- 2 from Academic/Law interests
In many cases comments were received from organisations on behalf of their membership. See Annex C.
3. Generally the Consultation Paper was well received and its aims supported although interpretation of the intention of the consultation paper differed greatly. Some sought to draft new legislation whereas others recommended amendments to existing legislation. The majority of those who responded supported the need for the protection of military wrecks and maritime graves. Comments varied significantly however, on the appropriate measures to achieve this goal.
4. A minority of those consulted advocated a blanket ban on all activities in the vicinity of wrecks. Fishing interests were unanimously against any restrictions on their commercial or sporting activities. Recreational divers, whilst fully supporting existing educational initiatives and self regulation expressed the pragmatic view that some restrictions were inevitable in the aftermath of strong public opposition of their past activities.
5. Unsurprisingly given the diversity of views no one single solution was identified from contributors that would satisfy all interests.
Current Legislation relating to wreck protection
6. The Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 (PoWA) provides for the pro-active protection of vessels of historical significance over 100 years. The trend within the historical lobby is to seek protection for military vessels outside this period where they are thought to be significant for technological reasons or their association to military endeavours. Unlike PoWA, the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 (PMRA) provides no powers for a preservation regime. Protection of historical vessels under PMRA would provide only passive measures of protection.
7. Given the polarised views prior to the consultation process unsurprisingly, no one single solution was identified from the replies that would completely satisfy the expectations of the diverse interest groups who contributed. Some contributors advocated a complete ban on all diving activities around wrecks; others supported no restrictions but promoted self-regulation such as the current "Respect our Wrecks" educational campaign; the majority favoured a compromise position.
8. There was general agreement that the provisions of PMRA should be applied to some if not all wrecked military vessels. Some opinion favoured designation as "Controlled Sites". But there was lack of agreement on the number of vessels to be designated. Others supported designation as "Protected Places".
9. a. that a limited number of high profile vessels (16), which are representative of all others lost, be designated as Controlled Sites (list at Annex B)
b. that five (5) vessels that lie in international waters be designated now as Protected Places and that a rolling programme of identification and assessment against the criteria be established to designate all other vessels, in military service when lost, as Protected Places.