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Posted by john corso on November 20, 2004 at 17:11:53:

After a discussion and E mail from Peter Hess, it appears that the enemies of admiralty, treasure hunters, and of any private shipwreck salvage have slipped something past in a National Defense Act that has nothing to do with national defense. Under H.R. 4200 (Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 , Title XIV, Section 1401-1408, Congress, whether it knew it or not, codified an exaggerated version of Sovereign Domain into United States Law.

What the law says is that the United States asserts title to any United States sunken military craft regardless of when the military craft sunk. No salvage rights will be granted on any U.S. sunken military craft without the express permission of the United States, and no salvage right will be granted on any foreign sunken military craft located in US waters without the express permission of the relevant foreign country. No person may disturb, injure or remove any sunken military craft or it associated contents within its debris field. Any person that violates the law is subject to up to $100,000 dollar penalty per offense, plus enforcement costs, storage, care, maintenance, archaeological and restoration costs.

Military craft include not only U.S. warships, but also naval auxiliary or other vessels that were owned or operated by any government when it sank, such as Spanish galleons, colonial vessels, German submarines, military owned support vessels, any military aircraft, etc. The law applies to United States Internal Waters, United States Territorial Sea, and the United States Contiguous Zone

The Law states that nothing is intended to limit fishing on sunken military craft, and I assume this includes spearfishing. Yet commercial fishing rigs could certainly disturb or injure a sunken ship wreck and often do.

Sport divers and dive boat captains need to take precautionary measures to prevent inadvertent salvage of sunken military craft by divers unaware of the new law or the fact that the shipwreck is a military craft. No statement was made in the law about publishing a list of known military craft and their GPS locations.

No one in the sport diving community was aware that this language was in H.R. 4200, and no one would think to look for it in a National Defense Act. The word Shipwreck was never mentioned in the bill and search programs did not pick it up. According to Peter Hess, the language in this bill was inserted and passed without any debate, committee hearing, or opportunity for those affected to be heard. The law may be able to be challenged in the courts on a variety of grounds.

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