Joint meeting agrees new emphasis on protecting and managing UK's underwater naval remains

The National Museum of the Royal Navy and the Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust hosted a meeting at Admiralty House, Whitehall on 15th November 2017 to investigate improvements in the management of underwater naval remains, and to reemphasise their protection from unauthorised intrusion and illegal salvage. 

Attendance included representatives of UK government departments and UK law enforcement officers, supported by environment and cultural advisers. The National Museum of the Royal Navy is the principal adviser to the Royal Navy on naval heritage and The Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust (MAST) is a charitable company with the purpose of educating the public in maritime heritage with particular emphasis on maritime archaeology. 

The meeting was convened to consider new technologies and practice employed elsewhere in the marine environment, such as the regulation of fishing, which would improve the current approach to the UK management of naval remains.  It considered ways of mitigating the complexities of the legal frameworks and breadth of interested parties that has, in the past, created ambiguities.  New ways of improved cooperation and collaboration were identified that should permit the early introduction of a new approach to management that meets the public’s expectation.

Participants agreed that in addition to protecting the UK’s undersea maritime heritage, emphasis needed to be placed on the potentially hazardous nature of the very fragile 19th and 20th century wrecks.  In many cases, they contain unstable explosive material, highly toxic minerals and fuel oils that are hazardous to divers and potentially damaging to the environment if tampered with by those lacking the necessary expertise and motivation.

Future cross-government work will be more collaborative and emphasise the criminal acts particularly of dangerous and unauthorised salvage, taking advantage of new technologies and capabilities for monitoring, deterrence, prevention and enforcement with wider inclusion in existing government security and policing frameworks. 

Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of The National Museum of the Royal Navy, said “We have identified in this seminar a new cooperative approach that will enable more effective management of the UK’s naval remains.  Surveillance and technologies employed in other government work will be helpful in monitoring the wrecks, to both record and protect the naval remains better”.

MAST Trustee, Vice Admiral Sir Anthony Dymock concluded the seminar in stating:   “We are looking forward to discussion with international colleagues on how we could increase collaboration, so that together we might manage better the potential hazards and pursue the criminal, but also seek the commemoration of heroic naval actions in a manner that befits today’s expectations”.

The group will reconvene in April 2018 to review progress with aspirations for the embedding of a new initiative that will better protect naval remains in a manner that respects the environment and commemorates naval heroism.

Image credit: Mike Pitts (Image of Excavation of HMS Invincible 1744) 

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HMS Hermes returning from the Falklands