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ustralia has been a world leader in developing legislation for the protection of shipwrecks.

Shipwrecks in Australian waters are protected by two important federal acts:

The Historic Shipwreck Act (1976) (Commonwealth), and the Customs Act 1901.

In addition States have additional legislation covering internal waters. In the State of Victoria historic shipwreck protection falls under the Heritage Act 1995 and includes the Heritage (Historic Shipwrecks) (General) Regulations 1996.

There are two categories of protection under both the Commonwealth Historic Shipwreck Act and the Victorian State Heritage Act. The two categories are 'Historic Shipwreck' and 'Protected Zone'.


The MAAV encourage interested readers to read in detail the relevant Acts:

The Acts, Commonwealth and Victorian parallel each other to a large degree however there are some regulations in the Heritage Act 1995 (Victoria) that are unique to Victoria. The following points 'outline briefly' some of the regulations under the acts which persons involved in Victorian shipwrecks should be aware of.

The following is taken in part from the Heritage Act 1995 (Victoria) and as such is incomplete.

Victorian Heritage Register

The Heritage Council, after considering the recommendation of the Executive Director concerning the cultural heritage significance of a ship or article may determine that the remains of a ship and or article/s are to be included in the Heritage Register as a historic shipwreck.

All historic shipwrecks, protected zones and historic shipwreck relics in Victorian State and Commonwealth waters are recorded in the Victorian Heritage Register.

Are you unsure of a shipwrecks historic status then check out the Victorian Heritage Register

Check out if a Victorian shipwreck is protected - Victorian Heritage Register . . . . .
Are you unsure of a shipwrecks historic status then check out the

Victorian Heritage Register

All shipwrecks of a certain age historic

  1. The remains of all ships that have been situated in Victorian waters 75 years or more are historic shipwrecks.
  2. All articles that have been associated with ships that have been situated in Victorian waters 75 years or more are historic shipwreck relics.
  3. The 75 year period in (1) and (2) may be reduced but the Governor in Council may not specify a period less than 10 years.
  4. The remains or articles of a ship situated in Victorian waters are classified historic after the 75th anniversary of the specified shipwreck.
  5. Exemptions may exist for remains or articles of a ship whose salvage or recovery was not contrary to any law in force at the time it occurred.

Protected zones:

An area not exceeding 100 hectares consisting of land or water or both within which a historic shipwreck or historic shipwreck relic is situated may be deemed a protected zone.

Notice of location of historic shipwrecks and historic shipwreck relics

If a person obtains possession of an article which is or becomes a historic shipwreck or historic shipwreck relic, the person must notify the suitable authorities in writing of the article's description and location within 7 days of obtaining possession of the article.

Prohibition of certain activities in relation to historic shipwrecks and historic shipwreck relics

A person must not, without lawful authority:

  1. take, destroy, damage, remove, disturb or otherwise interfere with any historic shipwreck or historic shipwreck relic; or
  2. buy, offer to buy, agree to buy or offer or agree to barter or exchange any historic shipwreck or historic shipwreck relic; or
  3. possess a historic shipwreck or historic shipwreck relic; or
  4. dispose of a historic shipwreck or historic shipwreck relic.

Offence to be near historic shipwrecks with certain equipment

A person must not, without authority or reasonable cause, possess on or near a historic shipwreck or historic shipwreck relic:

  1. any salvage or recovery equipment or any equipment that could be readily adapted or used for the salvage or recovery of the historic shipwreck or historic shipwreck relic; or
  2. any explosives, instruments or other equipment that could be used to damage or interfere with the historic shipwreck or historic shipwreck relic.

Permits for exploration or recovery of historic shipwrecks and historic shipwreck relics

A person may apply to the Executive Director for a permit authorising that person and any other persons named or described in the permit to do an act or thing which would otherwise be prohibited under sections of the Act or the shipwrecks regulations.

Discovery of shipwrecks and articles to be notified

A person who finds the remains of a ship, or of part of a ship, or an article associated with a ship must within 7 days give to the Executive Director a notice in writing setting out:

  1. a description of the remains or of the article; and
  2. a description of the place where the remains are, or the article is, situated, which is sufficient to enable the remains or articles to be located.

Rewards may be payable for first notification of discovery.

Individuals contravening the Heritage Act may face severe penalties as a result.