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Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage


Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage

The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage was adopted by UNESCO’s General Conference in 2001 and entered into force on 2 January 2009. Its purpose is to enable States to better protect their underwater heritage: shipwrecks, sites, caves and all traces of human existence having a cultural, historical or archaeological character which are (or were) partially or totally underwater. The in situ preservation of underwater cultural heritage shall be considered as the first and preferred option before allowing or engaging in whichever activities or salvages. The goal of the 2001 Convention is to foster public access to underwater cultural heritage and archaeological research.

The adoption of this important legal instrument is the international community’s response to the increasing risk of looting and destruction of underwater heritage by treasure hunters.

Italy provided a significant and decisive contribution to find a good balance of conflicting interests both during the preliminary negotiations and at the Conference itself. The 2001 Convention significantly improves the maritime legal framework of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) of which it integrates the provisions on underwater cultural heritage protection. Furthermore it opens the way to further regional agreements, through its article 6, which was strongly supported by our country for the protection of our special interests in the Mediterranean Sea.

The Conference of State Parties, sovereign body of the Convention, meets every two years. The Scientific and Technical Advisory Body, consisting of 12 governmental experts, assists the Conference of State Parties on technical and scientific issues.