Who owns shipwreck and sunken aircraft artefacts?
Most artefacts from shipwrecks, including all old Dutch shipwreck artefacts, are legally owned by the Commonwealth of Australia under the Commonwealth Navigation Act 2012 and the 1972 Agreement between the Netherlands and Australia concerning old Dutch Shipwrecks, regardless of who may currently have the item in their possession. Under international convention, ownership of sunken military aircraft and vessels resides with the Department of Defence or the military authorities of a relevant foreign county.
What are my responsibilities in regards to artefacts?
All persons must report their possession of protected underwater heritage artefacts under the Underwater Heritage Act.
- Individuals, businesses, museums and other institutions may retain custody of underwater heritage artefacts providing they comply with the permit requirements of the legislation.
- Artefacts with certificates issued under the repealed Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 and the Western Australian Museum Act 1959-1964 must now obtain a replacement transferable permit issued under the Underwater Heritage Act.
- The Underwater Heritage Act allows the sale or transfer of legally held artefacts from one custodian to another, providing a notification of the transfer is made within 14 days following the transfer of artefacts.
- Advertisements for sale or auction of artefacts must include the permit number for the artefact.
- Persons who receive permitted artefacts, following a sale or transfer, must submit an online notification that they have taken possession within 14 days.
- Custodians should ensure the condition and provenance i.e. the history and origin of the artefact, are maintained. Access to artefacts may also be required for the purposes of re-certification, conservation, research and exhibition.
Can I import or export underwater heritage?
- It is illegal to export or import underwater heritage artefacts without a permit issued under the.
- In practice, it is unlikely that a permit to export protected underwater heritage from Australia would be issued to a custodian. Custodians do not have legal title over artefacts and once removed from Australian jurisdiction, the Commonwealth would effectively lose heritage protection and ownership control over the artefacts.
- Export would also require an assessment under The Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986, following the granting of a permit under the Underwater Heritage Act.
- Museums and government institutions may be granted a permit for temporary removal from Australia to another country for the purposes of display, research or conservation of an underwater heritage artefact.
How do I apply for a Permit or submit a notification?
Permit applications and notifications can be made directly on the Australasian Underwater Cultural Heritage Database through the following links:
- Permit application for possession or export of underwater cultural heritage
- Notification of the possession or transfer of underwater cultural heritage
- Permit application to import underwater cultural heritage into Australia
Who can help with advice?
There are specialist staff located at State, Territory or Commonwealth heritage agencies who can assist you with advice. Your enquiries should be sent to UnderwaterHeritage@environment.gov.au and it will be directed to the person best able to provide assistance.