Controversial And Complex Issues
LETTER OF THE MONTH
I read with both interest and dismay the news item on the unauthorised recovery of material from the Dutch and UK naval vessels lost in the battle of the Java sea (Ghost Ships: Seven Sunken Warships Vanish, Britain at War January 2017).
Contrary to what is stated in the item the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001 has no application here, as it applies only to underwater cultural heritage that has been submerged, fully or partially, for at least 100 years. Moreover, the UK has not signed the Convention. The UK, along with most other western maritime states, asserts that the principle of ‘sovereign immunity’ confers immunity on sunken warships from salvage without authorisation but not all states agree, some applying the principle only to functioning warships and not to the wrecks of warships. Certainly, the principle of sovereign immunity and warship wrecks cannot yet be said to have achieved the status of customary international law observed by most states.