On 24 August 2018, the Australian Parliament passed the Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 (Underwater Heritage Act). The Act will come into effect on 1 July 2019, replacing the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 (Historic Shipwrecks Act). The changes will apply to underwater cultural heritage in Commonwealth or Australian waters. It will not apply to underwater cultural heritage in South Australian waters, which will continue to be administered under the South Australian Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981.
The new Underwater Heritage Act will continue the protection of Australia's shipwrecks and artefacts, and broaden protection to sunken aircraft and other types of underwater cultural heritage, amongst other broader protective measures.
Implementing the Underwater Heritage Act
The new Underwater Heritage Act broadens protection to automatically include all aircraft that were sunk in Commonwealth waters more than 75 years ago. The Commonwealth will provide a six month transition period, between 1 July and 31 December 2019, to enable persons to declare knowledge of the location of newly protected sunken aircraft sites and possession, custody and control of any associated artefacts previously recovered from protected sunken aircraft sites.
Possession, trade and sale of notified protected artefacts
As with the Historic Shipwrecks Act, trading and selling artefacts is permitted under the new Underwater Heritage Act, as long as you have met the legal obligations of the Historic Shipwrecks Act including notifying the Minister of your possession.
Important note: If you are in possession of a protected Historic Shipwreck relic and have not yet notified the Minister, please do so before the Underwater Heritage Act comes into effect to meet your existing statutory obligations.
Notification can be submitted online through the Australian National Shipwrecks Database. A link to the notification of possession form is also on the Department's Historic Shipwrecks webpage. Failure to meet this statutory obligation could result in any un-notified protected Historic Shipwreck relic being subject to seizure.
Where to get help
For assistance please email UnderwaterHeritage@environment.gov.au or DEWHeritage@sa.gov.au
More information will be made available on the Department's website prior to the commencement of the Underwater Heritage Act.