Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004

The Sunken Military Craft Act (SMCA) is the common name for Division A, Title XIV of the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, which was signed on October 28, 2004. The primary purpose of SMCA is to preserve and protect from unauthorized disturbance all sunken military craft that are owned by the United States government wherever located around the world, as well as foreign sunken military craft that lie within U.S. waters.

Why was the Sunken Military Craft Act passed?
Thousands of U.S. Government warships and military aircraft lie in waters around the world. Recent advances in technology have made these wrecks accessible to looters, treasure hunters, and others who may cause damage. This issue is a growing concern both nationally and internationally because, in addition to war graves, many sunken warships and aircraft contain objects of a sensitive archeological or historical nature. The Act was passed to protect these resources.

What does the Sunken Military Craft Act do?
SMCA provides tools for the management of sunken military craft, including:

  • A permitting program.

  • Establishment of civil penalties, ongoing violations, and in lem liability.

What has been the significance and impact of the Sunken Military Craft Act?
The SMCA applies to all U.S. sunken military craft across the globe, as well as to foreign sunken military craft that rest in U.S. waters. International collaboration and reciprocity are essential to preserving these craft through joint research efforts, the application of legal mandates, and the enforcement of violations.

What are the citations for the Sunken Military Craft Act and its regulations?
SMCA is found at 10 U.S.C. ยงยง 113 et seq. (Public Law 108-375, 10 U.S.C. 113 Note and 118 Stat. 2094-2098.

Its regulations are 32 C.F.R. 767, Guidelines for Permitting Archaeological Investigations and Other Activities Directed at Sunken Military Craft and Terrestrial Military Craft Under the Jurisdiction of the Department of the Navy.

For More Information
Bederman, David J. 2006. "Congress Enacts Increased Protections for Sunken Military Craft." American Journal of International Law 100(3):649-663.

Naval History and Heritage Command, Sunken Military Craft Act. (accessed January 12, 2023)

Nelson, Michael R. Finders. 2010. "Weepers-Losers, Keepers? Florida Court Says U.S. Company Must Return Recovered Treasure to Kingdom of Spain." Law and Business Review of the Americas 16(3):587-88.

Last updated: January 12, 2023