Murky Waters

The policy on sunken treasure used to be “finders keepers.” Now shipwreck salvagers must navigate complex laws to avoid being marooned in court.

A faithful, long-time reader (OK, our sister Susan) once posed a very interesting question: “Who owns cultural artifacts located in ancient shipwrecks?” Since Susan was 5 years old at the time and busy building a sand castle on the beach, those may not have been her exact words, but we got her drift.
According to Unesco, some three million sunken ships remain undiscovered in the ocean. Based on our research, there seem to be almost as many laws, treaties and conventions governing the ownership of artifacts on these wrecks. This may explain why it took us nearly 35 years to answer Susan’s question. Continue reading “Murky Waters”