Thursday, March 06, 2008

 

Why deep-sea wrecks need protection

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The Herald
By David Ross
March 06, 2008


From Scapa Flow to the Sound of Mull, their scattered remains chronicle Scotland's rich seafaring history.

Now ministers want to increase protection for the country's shipwrecks, ensuring future generations are able to explore and enjoy a precious historic marine environment.

The aim of new legislation is to better record and safeguard sites from the Spanish merchantman overcome by seas off Kinlochbervie at the close of the 16th century while carrying Italian pottery, to the Blessing of Burntisland, a ferry that sank in the Firth of Forth in 1633 carrying the baggage train of Charles I.

Launching a consultation on the proposed Scottish Marine Bill yesterday, Culture Minister Linda Fabiani said the legislation was a significant step forward.

"By enabling discussion with stakeholders, this consultation will help to provide the Scottish Government with informed policies to work towards our aspiration for a marine historic environment that is better defined and recorded, safeguarded and understood, with a positive contribution to make to the economic and cultural fabric of today's Scotland."

Historic Scotland said the legislation will broaden the range of marine historic assets that can be designated on the basis of "national importance", establish mechanisms for consultation prior to designation, and appeal procedures.

At present there are 15 underwater wreck sites around Scottish coasts that enjoy the statutory protection of two different laws. For example, the HMS Campania, which was sunk in the Firth of Forth in 1918, comes under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973.

But seven of the remaining wrecks of the German fleet scuttled in Scapa Flow, Orkney, in 1919 are scheduled as ancient monuments, and enjoy the same protection afforded to 8000 nationally important monuments scheduled on Scottish land.

According to Philip Robertson, Historic Scotland's senior inspector of marine archaeology, there is need for reform.

"The existing laws are widely considered ineffective below the low water mark. The proposals for new legislation would give us a more effective and workable tool with which to safeguard wrecks and other marine sites which are considered to be of national importance.

"Three-and-a-half thousand divers a year visit the wrecks in Scapa Flow and the people of Orkney have done a great job in protecting them, but occasionally things are removed. The new legislation would make it crystal clear that this was not permitted, but without adding onerous licensing conditions for visitors to these sites.

"Meanwhile, divers wishing merely to visit Scotland's eight historic wrecks designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 must obtain a licence from Historic Scotland. The proposals would allow Historic Scotland to manage activities depending on the needs of each site."


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