Monday, May 16, 2005


Australia urged to protect shipwrecks


The Age
By David Adam
May 16, 2005

Australia should ratify an international convention aimed at protecting underwater cultural heritage to help ensure vulnerable shipwreck sites - particularly those in the Asia-Pacific area - are not looted before they can be studied.

A former director-general of UNESCO's cultural heritage division, Lyndel Prott of the Australian National University, said it was clear there were very valuable shipwrecks in the Asia-Pacific region that were quite vulnerable to treasure hunters.

A number of countries woke up to this only when they were confronted with auction catalogues full of important artefacts out of their waters, she said.

The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage was drawn up in 2001. Under its terms, signatory states must protect their cultural underwater heritage from looters. They must also stop trade in shipwreck loot.

Only a few countries have ratified the convention, including Panama, Bulgaria and Croatia, but a number are believed to be close to doing so.

The issue of trading in shipwreck items made news early last year, when members of the Australasian Institute of Maritime Archaeology opposed an auction of artefacts salvaged from the Binh Thuan, which sank with a cargo of ceramics off Vietnam in about 1608.

Institute president Cosmos Coroneos said last week that while no one would allow people to take home marble from the Parthenon in Greece, for some reason shipwrecks were considered fair game.

Professor Prott, who spoke on the issue at a maritime archaeology seminar yesterday, said she believed countries needed to carefully study the convention before ratifying it, but it would certainly raise the standard of care towards shipwrecks.


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