Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976

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Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976
Coat of Arms of Australia.svg
Parliament of Australia
An Act relating to the Protection of Certain Shipwrecks and Relics of Historic Significance
Citation Act No. 190 of 1976
Territorial extent Australia (including the external Territories) and the territorial sea of Australia and waters of the sea (not being State waters) on the landward side of the territorial sea of Australia.
Enacted by Parliament of Australia
Date enacted 15 Dec 1976
Status: In force

The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 is an Australian Act of Parliament designed to legally protect historic shipwrecks and any relics or artifacts from those wrecks.[1] The Act automatically affects all shipwrecks that meet the 'historic' criteria (generally defined as vessels more than 75 years old, although newer ships with historic value may be placed under the Act) and are in Australian Commonwealth waters (between the low-tide mark and the edge of the continental shelf): complementary state and territory legislation protects shipwrecks in rivers and bays.[1] Of the estimated 8,000 shipwrecks in Australian waters, more than 6,500 are protected under this legislation.[2]

Most shipwrecks under the act can be accessed by the public, although no items may be removed from the wreck site without permission, and divers must take care not to damage or disturb the wreck.[1] Any items removed from a protected wreck (including those removed before the Act came into effect) must be listed on a database maintained by the Federal department responsible for maintaining and preserving Australia's cultural heritage (the Department of the Environment and Energy).[1] As of 2011, over 500,000 artifacts and relics are listed and recognised.[2]

22 shipwrecks are placed under an additional level of protection: an exclusion zone of up to 800 metres (2,600 ft) is placed around the wreck, and there can be no activities in or through this zone without formal permission.[1][2] Anyone disturbing a protected shipwreck can be fined up to A$10,000, or imprisoned for a maximum of five years.[3]

The following legislation complements the Act within waters under the direct control of the States and the Northern Territory:[4]

  • New South Wales: Heritage Act 1977
  • Northern Territory: Heritage Conservation Act 1991
  • Queensland: Queensland Heritage Act 1992
  • South Australia: Historic Shipwrecks Act 1981 and Heritage Places Act 1993
  • Tasmania: Historic Cultural Heritage Act 1995
  • Victoria: Heritage Act 1995 and Heritage Historic Shipwrecks General Regulations 1996
  • Western Australia: Maritime Archaeology Act 1973

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Historic shipwrecks laws". Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. 5 June 2009. Retrieved 7 June 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c Smith, Aaron (17 March 2011). "Historic shipwrecks around Australia". Australian Geographic. Retrieved 18 March 2011. 
  3. ^ Mearns, David (2009). The Search for the Sydney. Pymble, NSW: HarperCollins Publishers. p. 169. ISBN 978-0-7322-8889-1. OCLC 301679923. 
  4. ^ "Resources: Legislation to protect wrecks and artefacts". Australian National Maritime Museum. Retrieved 17 March 2013. 

External links[edit]