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Treasure trove / salvage of historical wrecks

One of our key specialities is dealing with salvage of historical wrecks and specialist underwater searches. As sonar technology in particular improves wrecks long since forgotten can be located on the sea bed. These can be deep in international waters or within the EZ of a littoral state. These raise issues combining history and salvage law often in a way not thought of by legislators.

Maritime Salvage Law Firm

Finding a wreck and determining the name of the ship, its history and cargo is just the beginning. Deep sea wreck salvage of historic artefacts throws up significant issues on ownership and jurisdiction. A Spanish vessel carrying Inca gold sunk by the British Navy in war off the coast of South America will see many prospective owners claiming ownership. Questions arising over applicable law, heritage cargoes, the law of Prize and sovereign immunity which require careful research and a clear strategy.

Each country has very different rules on the regulations around searching and extraction of antiquities requiring licenses even outside territorial waters. Wrecks with historical importance to a country will mean any operation comes under careful scrutiny and indeed there is a risk that where laws are misunderstood then criminal action can be taken against the crew.

Here in the UK finds must be handed to the Receiver of Wrecks to determine ownership. The salvors will then be looking to get an award under the Salvage Convention and we are very familiar with the issues that arise and have the expertise on the law of Prize, lex situsand sovereign immunity. Cases may also involve seeking Judicial Review of the decisions made over ownership through the Administrative Court.