Historic relics and artefacts are objects that are associated with an historic shipwreck. It can include anything that was on or part of a ship or aircraft when it sank, wrecked, or was scuttled or abandoned.

Parts of the ship such as timbers, fasteners (nails, bolts etc), bells and anchors are probably the most visible relics, but historic relics can also include items of the cargo or personal items belonging to the crew or passengers.

Historic relics are protected under the South Australian Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981 or the Commonwealth Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018depending on whether the shipwreck occurred in state or Commonwealth waters.

Under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981/Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 it is illegal to damage, destroy, interfere with or dispose of historic relics/artefacts or, in the case of underwater relics, to remove an historic relic/artefact from the state's territorial waters, unless you have a permit. This means that you must not move or collect any articles that may be historic relics.

Relics that have been underwater are particularly prone to accelerated deterioration when removed from the water and exposed to air without appropriate conservation works.

What do you need to do?

If you need to disturb an historic relic/artefact, e.g. as part of approved research, you can apply for a permit.

If you find or have possession of an historic relic/artefact, you have legal obligations regarding its care and custody, including notifying DEW. Legal obligations also surround the transfer and disposal of relics in your possession.