NEW SHIPWRECKS LEGISLATION
The recent discovery of the World War II shipwreck SS Iron Crown heralds imminent changes in Australia’s legislative protection of sunken vessels in our coastal waters.
In April, the CSIRO announced the discovery of the Iron Crown in Bass Strait, off the
Victorian coast. The freighter was shipping ore from Whyalla (SA) to Newcastle (NSW) when she was struck by a torpedo from a Japanese submarine on 4 June 1942, sinking in 60 seconds.
“The wreck appears to be relatively intact and is sitting upright on the seafloor in about 700m of water,” said Emily Jateff, chief scientist at the Australian National Maritime Museum.
There are about 8,000 historic shipwrecks in Australian waters. Since 1976, the protection of this unique and irreplaceable maritime heritage has come under the statutory umbrella of the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks
Act. But that will change on 1 July 2019 when the Underwater Cultural Heritage Act 2018 (UCHA) comes into effect.
While continuing to protect Australia’s shipwrecks, the UCHA will broaden protection to sunken aircraft and other underwater cultural heritage (including human remains), along with their fragile natural environments.
The new Act will have effect both in Australian waters and in seas outside Australian jurisdiction.
To that end, the UCHA applies a suite of monitoring and investigation powers to be exercised by state and Federal agencies, with a range of civil and criminal penalties for an individual that include imprisonment for five years and fines up to a maximum of $168,000.
The UCHA’S wide-ranging changes will impact recreational divers, eco-tour companies, proponents of offshore developments, environment and heritage consultants, marine archaeologists, contractors working in the marine environment and port authorities, to name a few.
To help people understand and meet their new statutory obligations, a transition period will apply from 1 July 2019 until 31 December 2019.