Wrecks and Underwater Cultural Heritage

Update September 2018:Australia’s Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018(UCH Act) became an act of parliament on 24 August 2018. It is anticipated that the UCH Act will come into force on 1 July 2019.

Update August 2018: It was announced in the Advertiser on 5th July that the site of the 1837 wreck of the South Australian at Victor Harbor has been established and will now have a 30m exclusion zone around it for protection.

SDFSA is committed to the protection of South Australia’s underwater cultural heritage, and believes the Federation has an important role to play in informing the diving community of the rules surrounding designation, access and use of sites.

Highlights of the Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 for divers

1. The Act expands coverage from shipwrecks to submerged aircraft and other types of underwater cultural heritage along with their fragile natural environments.
2. The Act also guides actions by Australian divers in waters outside Australian jurisdiction, helping protect sunken Australian vessels and aircraft overseas.
3. The Act will now provide protection for associated human remains.
4. The Act improves the government’s ability to declare an area containing underwater cultural heritage to be a protected zone by allowing the size of the zone to be tailored to suit each individual siteand the prohibited conduct in each zone to be specific to the site’s need for protection or for environmental conditions.
5. The Act provides for a simple online process to apply for permits to access protected zones.
6. It will also be easier to transfer artefacts – once applicants have received a permit under the new Act. The new transferable permits system will reduce the burden on individuals in possession, custody and control of protected underwater cultural heritage artefacts and enable better regulation of their movement.
7. All six States and the NT have agreed to align their legislation with the Act: this will give clarity to obligations wherever divers are located in Australia.
8. The Act has been aligned with the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage to facilitate Australia participating in global responses to illegal salvaging, looting and trafficking of marine artefacts.