Wrecks that have been lying on the bottom of the North Sea for over 100 years are now automatically recognized as heritage. That is what the Belgian government has decided. There are more than 350 wrecks off the coast of Belgium, often from the First and Second World War. These younger wrecks can also be extra protected. State Secretary of the North Sea Philippe De Backer (Open VLD) wants to prevent that they are being looted or damaged.
Source: VRT Belgium, Bart Rooms
Shipwrecks in the Belgian part of the North Sea are now better protected. The Belgian government decided that on proposal of State Secretary for the North Sea Philippe De Backer (Open VLD). Wrecks that are 100 years or older will automatically be recognized as cultural heritage. Wrecks under the age of 100, such as those from the Second World War, can also be recognized as heritage by the State Secretary.
Worldwide, more than three million wrecks lie on the bottom of the sea. In the Belgian part of the North Sea alone there are more than 350, often from the First and Second World War. During the World Wars there was not only a war on land, but also at sea. Last year the wreck of a German submarine was recovered off the coast of Zeebrugge.
“The wrecks show a dark page from our European history”, says State Secretary De Backer. “But it is a dark page, fought on our North Sea, which has partly determined how our society looks today. That is why it is so important to cherish and protect those memories.”
In addition to historical value, wrecks also have an ecological and recreational value. All too often wrecks are looted or destroyed. The new legislation, which also applies internationally, wants to get rid of this. All wrecks that have been under water for over a hundred years are automatically recognized as heritage under water. Wrecks that have been under water for less than a hundred years, such as wrecks from WW II, can be equalized with underwater cultural heritage by the State Secretary.
At present, eleven wrecks have been recognized in the Belgian part of the North Sea. They are left in situ and benefit from special protection measures. They remain accessible for divers, for example, but there is a ban on activities or works that could damage the wreck, such as anchorage, line fishing or dredging. The recognized wrecks also end up on the sea charts.
Exhibition: Our maritime heritage
The treasures of the North Sea are also covered in the exhibition ‘Ons Maritiem Erfgoed’ (Our Maritime Heritage). The federal Belgian government service Mobility and Transport has revealed unique documents from its rich archives, illustrated with equally exceptional photographs that reflect the dramatic period and the role of the sea. A selection of these is the basis of the exhibition.
The exhibition runs from Friday 21 September to 28 October 2018. Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 1 pm to 6 pm in the Natiënhuis in Antwerp.