Frequently Asked Questions
- How many shipwrecks are there in South Australia?
- What is considered a historic shipwreck?
- What is considered a historic relic?
- Why are historic shipwrecks important?
- What is a protected zone?
- Who is responsible for administering the Historic Shipwrecks Act?
- Do any other laws protect historic shipwrecks in South Australia?
- What are South Australian waters under the Historic Shipwrecks Act?
- Why are shipwrecks automatically protected after 75 years?
- Are there any other forms of underwater cultural heritage protected by the South Australian Historic Shipwrecks Act?
- How do we ensure compliance with the Act?
- What is considered illegal activity and how do I report it?
- How do I apply for a permit to explore shipwrecks?
- Do permits have any expiry date?
- Can I explore shipwrecks without a permit?
- Where are SA's ships' graveyards and shipwreck trails?
- Where can I find information about historic shipwrecks?
How many shipwrecks are there in South Australia?
There are over 800 vessels known to have been wrecked along South Australia’s coast and inland waters. Of these, 276 have been declared under South Australia’s Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981 and 163 have been declared under the Commonwealth Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018. They include more than 70 wrecks that have ended their days in 19 identified ships’ graveyards. Apart from those located in the sea, shipwrecks may also be located in rivers, harbours and lakes, or on riverbanks and foreshores.
What is considered a historic shipwreck?
Any wreck in South Australian waters which is 75 years old is automatically protected under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981. Under this Act, historically significant shipwrecks that are less than 75 years old, may be protected by Ministerial declaration. A protected historic shipwreck includes articles associated with the ship, including moveable artefacts.
What is considered a historic relic?
Articles that have been situated in territorial waters of South Australia for 75 years or more and that were associated with ships are considered to be historic relics under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981. In addition, articles that have been removed from territorial waters of South Australia that were associated with ships are, after the 75th anniversary of the date on which the articles first came to rest on the seabed, considered historic relics.
Why are historic shipwrecks important?
The remains of historic shipwrecks are an important part of our heritage and are valuable educational, recreational and tourism assets. They offer a unique insight into our past and the lives of people who travelled by sea. Shipwrecks are interesting sites to explore and offer a one of a kind experience to divers and snorkelers. An assortment of marine life can often be found in and around shipwrecks. People are encouraged to visit these sites on a look but don’t interfere basis.
What is a protected zone?
A historic shipwreck protected zone is an area not exceeding 100 hectares, declared by the Minister by notice in the South Australian Government Gazette. There are two such historic shipwreck protected zones in South Australia; one around the barque South Australian, and the other one around the historic shipwreck Zanoni. Entry into the protected zone of the South Australian is strictly prohibited. Entry to the Zanoni protected zone requires a permit. It is an offence to enter this protected zones without a permit.
Historic shipwreck protected zones are identified on coastal navigation charts and on signage posted at publicly accessible boat ramps in the vicinity of the zones. Information is also available online through the Department for Environment and Water (DEW) website. The department has published a number of media releases reminding the public to exercise caution in the vicinity of historic shipwrecks and protected zones.
Who is responsible for administering the Historic Shipwrecks Act?
Heritage South Australia in the department is responsible for overseeing and administering the Act.
Do any other laws protect historic shipwrecks in SA?
In 1976 the Commonwealth government acknowledged the need to protect significant shipwreck sites and relics with the introduction of the (Commonwealth) Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 for Commonwealth Waters extending from the low water mark to the edge of the continental shelf. Complementary South Australian legislation followed a few years later with the (South Australian) Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981 for South Australian Waters.
On 24 August 2018 the Australian Parliament passed the Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 that replaced the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 (Commonwealth). The Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 commenced on 1 July 2019 and applies to all historic shipwrecks and sunken aircraft, their associated artefacts, as well as other declared underwater cultural heritage, located in Commonwealth or Australian waters. Read more about the changes here. Please note that the changes do not apply to underwater cultural heritage in South Australian waters, which continues to be administered under the South Australian Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981.
What are South Australian waters under the Historic Shipwrecks Act?
South Australian waters under this Act are defined as those waters within Spencer Gulf (north of a line between Cape Catastrophe and Cape Spencer), Gulf St Vincent (north of a line between Troubridge Point and Cape Jervis), historic bays (Anxious Bay, Encounter Bay, Lacapede Bay and Rivoli Bay), inland rivers and lakes, and above low tide everywhere else along the coast. All other water are Commonwealth or Australian waters.
Why are shipwrecks automatically protected after 75 years?
Under both State and Commonwealth legislation, all wrecks and associated articles, become ‘historic’ when they are 75 years old. This means that wrecks in State and Commonwealth waters may be treated in the same way. The consistency between the two Acts provides clarity for the community, certainty for developers and creates greater uniformity across Australia. (All states have a 75 year automatic protection rule for Historic Shipwrecks, except New South Wales, which has a 50 year rule.)
Are there any other forms of underwater cultural heritage protected by the South Australian Historic Shipwrecks Act?
In 2010 the States and Territory governments signed the Australian Underwater Cultural Heritage Intergovernmental Agreement to support the Australian Government pursuing ratification of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. The Convention aims to protect a broader definition of underwater cultural heritage to include archaeological remains and aircraft wrecks. The Agreement established that the Commonwealth would first redraft its legislation to include underwater cultural heritage and ultimately replace the Commonwealth’s Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. The States and Territories were to follow with complimentary legislation. While the Commonwealth amendments have progressed, changes to the South Australian Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981, to include underwater cultural heritage, may be expected to follow.
How do we ensure compliance with the Act?
Heritage South Australia and DEW are committed to administering the legislation in a way that helps the community do the right thing to minimise impacts on our maritime heritage. We provide guidance and information to the community enabling them to enjoy our maritime heritage while protecting it for future generations. Our compliance team manages risks and monitors activities around historic shipwrecks and protected zones, and where necessary use regulatory tools to achieve compliance. More information.
What is considered illegal activity and how do I report it?
The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981 lists a number of activities and actions that are prohibited:
It is illegal to damage, destroy, interfere with, or to dispose of, any historic shipwrecks or historic relics. In addition, it is an offence to remove a historic shipwreck or relic from South Australia’s territorial waters – this includes removal from the surface or subsoil of any land submerged by those waters, or from a reef in those waters.
It is illegal to do the following in a protected zone:
To bring into or use the following equipment where the use of the equipment would be likely to damage or interfere with historic shipwrecks or relics within the protected zone:
Equipment constructed or adapted for diving, salvage or recovery operations, and
Explosives instruments or tools.
To cause a vessel carrying the above equipment, explosives, instruments or tools to enter or remain within a protected zone.
To trawl, dive or engage in any underwater activity.
To moor or use a vessel.
If it appears to the Minister that a person has, or may have had, possession, custody or control of an article that is or may be part of a historic shipwreck or relic, then the Minister may issue a notice for the person to provide certain information. It is an offence to refuse or fail to comply with the notice, or to knowingly furnish information that is false or misleading.
If a person has possession, custody or control of an article that is or may be part of a historic shipwreck or relic, then the Minister may issue a notice to take specific action in relation to the article. It is an offence to fail to comply with the notice.
It is important to realise that these requirements are designed to adequately protect historic shipwrecks and relics from actions that may harm them so that all South Australians may enjoy them.
If you see an offence being committed please contact Heritage South Australia on (08) 8124 4960.
How do I apply for a permit to explore shipwrecks?
Some shipwrecks are surrounded by protected zones which prohibit boating activity within a 550 metre radius of a shipwreck site. A permit is required to enter those protected zones to carry out any activity, such as boating and diving. Currently just one historic shipwrecks has a protected zone requiring a permit, the Zanoni. Apply for a permit here.
Do permits have an expiry date?
Yes. Permits granted (by the Minister's delegate) for exploring shipwrecks have expiry dates that are specified in the permit.
Can I explore shipwrecks without a permit?
Yes but only the shipwrecks that are not in protected zones. For example you can enjoy a variety of shipwreck experiences, such as the wrecks in any of the 19 ship's graveyards or diving/snorkelling along any of the nine shipwreck trails. However every effort must be made to prevent accidental damage to the wrecks in these areas.
Where are SA's ships's graveyards and shipwreck trails?
The 19 ships’ graveyards are located in waters around South Australia, with the largest concentration of sites near metropolitan Adelaide. The vessels can be found in a variety of locations from muddy banks, tidal creeks or amongst the mangroves. Others have been scuttled at sea in shallow coastal waters and deeper below the surface. More information.
There are nine shipwreck trails along the South Australian coast and River Murray. These trails explore the ships' graveyards and their abandoned vessels. More information.
Where can I find information about historic shipwrecks?
Historic shipwrecks and relics are registered under the South Australian Register of Historic Shipwrecks. This information is available online via the Australian Underwater Cultural Heritage Database, the NatureMaps website and LocationSA.