Violation of graves at sea can hardly be prevented due to lack of supervision

Despite legal protection, the violation of marine graves can hardly be prevented due to a lack of effective supervision.

That says extraordinary professor of maritime archaeology André van Holk from the University of Groningen. Not only in the Java Sea, but also in the North Sea and the Wadden Sea, shipwrecks are not safe for wreck divers who regularly violate war graves in search of interesting objects.

War grave
Treaties protect the wrecks, in theory at least. The plundered British submarine E5, which lies to the north of Schiermonnikoog, is a war grave according to international law.

The Netherlands has also ratified the Unesco Convention for Cultural Heritage, and the Heritage Act has been tightened two years ago. Whoever gets an object from a shipwreck can get a fine for it. Items can also be confiscated.

In practice, things are not going so fast, says Van Holk. “Supervision is very difficult. You should have a kind of water police patrolling everywhere. That is impossible. I am looking for the solution in a different direction. Work with wreck divers who are of good will. Manage the wrecks together and do research together. ”

Although a trial with such cooperation between divers and the Dutch Cultural Heritage Agency was not easy, according to Van Holk there is a turnaround going on. “Some of the amateur divers still plunder, but another part would like to cooperate with scientists. And that is good, because without them you will not make it. Divide the coastal area into underwater regions and put a professional and a few divers in who coordinate the research. ”

In that respect, according to him, the Netherlands can take an example from France. “In Marseille there is a large maritime research institute with its own ship and ten divers. There is a lack of experts in the Netherlands in this area. Too bad, because by doing research on the spot, you also get a kind of control. But yes, my chair is also being discontinued. I have long wondered why our country is so sloppy about maritime heritage. Maybe we are too pragmatic, money just needs to be earned. ”

The previous Minister of Education, Jet Bussemaker, promised at the end of last year that the House of Representatives will receive a report this spring in which the government unveils how it wants to deal with the heritage under and above water.

She has trouble with the behaviour of some divers, she recognized at the time. “That what lies under water, cannot just be taken by everyone to show for fun at home. ”


Translated by Noordzee Maritiem from original article published on March 9th 2018 written by Gerdt van Hofslot (Dagblad van het Noorden)