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Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines*


The Abandoned Shipwreck Act (Pub.L. 100-298; 43 U.S.C. 2101-2106) was signed into law by the President of the United States on April 28, 1988. Under the Act, the U.S. Government asserted title to three categories of abandoned shipwrecks: abandoned shipwrecks embedded in a State's submerged lands; abandoned shipwrecks embedded in coralline formations protected by a State on its submerged lands; and abandoned shipwrecks located on a State's submerged lands and included in or determined eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places.

Upon asserting title, the U.S. Government transferred its title to the majority of those shipwrecks to the respective States to manage. The United States retained its title to shipwrecks located in or on public lands while Indian tribes hold title to shipwrecks located in or on Indian lands.

The Act directs the National Park Service to prepare the guidelines being issued herewith to assist the States and Federal agencies in developing legislation and regulations to carry out their responsibilities under the Act. In accordance with the Act, the guidelines are intended to maximize the enhancement of cultural resources; foster a partnership among sport divers, fishermen, archeologists, salvors, and other interests to manage shipwreck resources of the States and the United States; facilitate access and utilization by recreational interests; and recognize the interests of individuals and groups engaged in shipwreck discovery and salvage.

The "Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines" and the philosophy upon which they are based are the result of three decades of shipwreck management experience within units of the national park system. That experience includes using an interdisciplinary team approach to survey, identify, evaluate, document, interpret, and protect hundreds of shipwrecks located in 59 national park units. It also includes experience conserving, storing, and maintaining artifact and archival collections relating to shipwrecks and other maritime resources. Many of these activities are carried out with the assistance of sport diver and non-diver volunteers and U.S. Department of the Navy dive teams. Some activities are carried out in cooperation with State and foreign governments. This breadth of experience in shipwreck management is reflected in the final "Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines."

The "Guidelines" also reflect many of the comments and suggestions provided by the public, States, Federal agencies, and various interest groups during the course of their development. Sixty-six individuals and organizations provided written comments on the proposed "Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines" (54 FR 13642, April 4, 1989). Over 120 people presented statements at 11 public meetings held during September and October 1988; about 130 people sent letters to express their opinions or that of the organizations or government agencies they represented. In addition, 47 States and territories provided information on their respective shipwreck management programs in effect in mid-1988. All of these comments and suggestions were carefully considered by the National Park Service and, to the extent permissible by law, incorporated into the final "Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines."

The "Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines" provide advice to the States and Federal agencies on how to effectively manage shipwrecks in waters under their ownership or control. The basic components of a shipwreck management program are to:

(a) Locate and identify shipwrecks;

(b) Determine which shipwrecks are abandoned and meet the criteria for assuming title under the Abandoned Shipwreck Act;

(c) Determine which shipwrecks are historic;

(d) Identify recreational and other values that a shipwreck may possess and the shipwreck's current and potential uses;

(e) Provide for the long-term protection of historic shipwrecks;

(f) Protect the rights of owners of non-abandoned shipwrecks;

(g) Consult and maintain a cooperative relationship with the various shipwreck interest groups;

(h) Cooperate with State and Federal agencies and sovereign nations having an interest in shipwreck management;

(i) Provide sport divers with reasonable access to explore shipwrecks;

(j) Provide for public appreciation, understanding, and enjoyment of shipwrecks and maritime history;

(k) Conduct archeological research on shipwrecks where research will yield information important to understanding the past;

(l) Provide for private sector participation in shipwreck research projects; and

(m) Provide for commercial salvage and other private sector recovery of shipwrecks when such activities are in the public interest.

The "Guidelines" provide advice on how to accomplish the basic components of shipwreck management. However, it is expected that the level of activity under each component (and the specific methods used to accomplish each component) will vary from State to State and from Federal agency to Federal agency. Primary factors influencing how activities under each component are undertaken would include, but not be limited to, the number and nature of shipwrecks under the State or Federal agency's ownership or control, the type and amount of current and potential future uses (like recreational, commercial, and scholarly uses), the type and amount of current and potential future impacts, the availability of monetary and staffing resources, and the applicability of other related statutes and regulations.

The "Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines" are divided into four parts. Part I contains definitions of key terms used in the Act and the "Guidelines." Part II contains guidelines for the management of shipwrecks under State and Federal agency ownership or control. Part III contains the Abandoned Shipwreck Act as passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by the President. Part IV lists the shipwrecks that currently are listed in or are determined eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

States and Federal agencies should note that the "Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines" are advisory and, therefore, non-binding. 1 States and Federal agencies are encouraged to use the "Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines" and other applicable standards and guidelines to establish, review, revise, and implement programs to manage shipwrecks under their ownership or control. States and Federal agencies are free to adopt the "Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines" in their entirety, make changes to accommodate the diverse and sometimes unique needs of each State or Federal agency, reject parts as inapplicable, or use alternative approaches.

However, it is clear from the legislative history that the U.S. Congress intends for State shipwreck management programs to be consistent with the Abandoned Shipwreck Act and these "Guidelines" and for Federal shipwreck management programs to be consistent with the "Guidelines" to the extent consistent with other applicable Federal law (U.S. House of Representatives Report No. 100-514, Pt. 1, p. 3, and Pt. 2, p. 7).

1Since States may establish shipwreck management programs in offices other than the States's historic preservation office, the "Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines" are not being incorporated into National Park Service Guideline No. 49, "National Register Programs Guideline," which is used to review State historic preservation programs for compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act (16 U.S.C. 470 et seq.) and the terms and conditions of Historic Preservation Fund grant awards. Unless statutorily required, no changes will be made to State historic preservation program requirements without prior consultation with the States.

*NOTE: This web posting of the "Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines" is a compilation of the Final Guidelines published in the Federal Register on December 4, 1990 (55 FR 50116) and two Federal Register notices of correction published on December 14, 1990 (55 FR 51528) and February 26, 1991 (56 FR 7875). Names of publications and addresses for National Park Service offices also have been updated. (return to top)

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