Dead men tell no tales at the bottom of the sea. For thousands of years, this truth remained unalterable; but now, the rapid development of underwater technology is prying open the once impenetrable realm of Davy Jones's locker. This technology gives us access to the seas darkest secrets, and opens new windows to our past. Indeed, what once only lingered at the edge of dreams is now a reality. The sea has stubbornly begun to yield its treasures to those brave enough to search. In recent years, enterprising adventurers have reclaimed pirates' gold, discovered the riches of past empires,' and peered into the ironic serenity of disaster. Bringing these artifacts to the light of the modem world has given a new voice to the bones of forgotten people, and has raised their stories from the dead. Unfortunately, wherever there are bones, there are sure to be scavengers. Gold fever, which has infected some unscrupulous treasure hunters and commercial salvors, as well as chronic under funding of archaeologists, threatens to destroy what remains of America's unfound maritime heritage. To save what remains, we must immediately improve and clarify the purpose and structure of our underwater historic resource laws, and create a workable management plan for the recovery and management of these resources. In order to preserve the knowledge that our historic shipwrecks could provide, Americans must begin to appreciate the value that these wrecks have as historic resources, and must demand that they be efficiently utilized in the best interests of all our citizens and future generations. This appreciation must be converted into laws which acknowledge and are based upon three principles: 1) that wreck sites are often also grave sites and should be treated with dignity and respect; 2) that the most important aspect of a historic wreck site is its potential to contribute to our knowledge of human history; and 3) that the public is entitled to the knowledge obtained from such wreck sites. Adherence to these principles would create laws which would mandate thorough and efficient excavation of sites, as well as full analysis and publication of the excavator's findings. To best utilize America's historic shipwreck resources, a management scheme should be established that will encourage private salvors to work with archaeologists and the government under the direction of admiralty courts. This management scheme, termed "cooperative archaeology," could be established by fine-tuning the Abandoned Shipwreck Act (ASA) and admiralty law, as well as further establishing a code of ethics that all commercial salvors and archaeologists would be mandated to apply when excavating historic shipwrecks. This Comment will evaluate the debate for and against traditional salvage, full cultural resource preservation, and "cooperative archaeology" as means toward the efficient utilization of historic shipwreck resources. It will also examine the current state of historical preservation law, with special emphasis on the ASA, and analyze what changes must be made to transform the current legal environment into one that will provide for improved resource recovery and management through the encouragement of cooperation between the government, salvors, and archaeologists.
Jeffrey T. Scrimo,
Raisign The Dead: Improving The Recovery And Management Of Historic Shipwrecks,
Ocean & Coastal L.J.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/oclj/vol5/iss2/5