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Topics > Cultural heritage > Maritime heritage > Managing maritime heritage

Reporting a shipwreck or underwater cultural heritage

Historic shipwrecks, relics and other declared underwater cultural heritage are protected under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981/Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018.

The legislation requires anyone discovering, possessing or transferring custody of a historic shipwreck and relic to notify DEW or the relevant Federal agency as listed below.

Discovering an historic shipwreck, aircraft or relic/artefact

If you discover the location of an historic shipwreck, aircraft or historic relic/artefact you must notify:

For: 

  • Shipwrecks or relics in State waters, download and complete this form.
  • Shipwrecks, aircraft or artefacts in Commonwealth waters, complete this online form.

Failure to notify the discovery of an historic shipwreck, aircraft or relic/artefact can attract substantial penalties.

Possessing an historic shipwreck, aircraft or relic/artefact

It is illegal to disturb or remove items from historic shipwrecks without a permit.

However, dealers and collectors can legally purchase or sell protected objects. Relics/artefacts may also be held by private collectors under a strict process of regulating custody and transfer.

If you have possession, custody or control of an historic shipwreck, aircraft or relic/artefact then you must notify:

For: 

  • Shipwrecks or relics from State waters, download and complete this form.
  • Shipwrecks, aircraft or artefacts from Commonwealth waters, complete this online form.

Failure to notify authorities about the possession of an historic shipwreck, aircraft or relic/artefact can attract substantial penalties.

Transferring an historic shipwreck, aircraft or relic/artefact

If you have possession, custody or control of an historic shipwreck, aircraft or relic/artefact and wish to transfer the article to another entity then you must notify DEW or the relevant Federal agency and give details of the entity it is to be transferred to.

For:

  • Shipwrecks or relics from State waters, download and complete this form.
  • Shipwrecks, aircraft or artefacts from Commonwealth waters, complete this online form.

A permit may also have strict conditions attached. Where conditions attached to a permit are contravened, heavy penalties may apply.

Moving an historic shipwreck, aircraft or relic/artefact interstate

If you are retaining custody of a shipwreck or relic from State waters but are moving interstate, you must notify:

For:

  • Shipwrecks or relics from State waters - download and complete this form.
  • Shipwrecks, aircraft or artefacts from Commonwealth waters - complete this online form.

Failure to notify the transfer can attract substantial penalties.

Exporting an historic shipwreck, aircraft or relic/artefact out of Australia

It is illegal to export historic relics, including coins, out of Australia without an appropriate permit (see transfer of relics above).

A permit under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 may also be required.

For further information visit the Federal Government's website on moveable cultural heritage.

Click here to view form.