Maritime Military Heritage: Illicit Salvage and its Consequences Poster Exhibitions

HMS Exeter. Image credit: Western Morning News

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    Devonport Naval Heritage Centre, Plymouth, Devon PL1 4RW

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    The Shipwreck and Heritage Centre, Quay Road, Charlestown, St Austell, Cornwall PL25 3NX

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The poster exhibitions were located at two iconic local centres for maritime history and were designed to engage visitors around issues relating to the protection of underwater cultural heritage generally, and more specifically in respect of the protection of military remains where they take the form of shipwrecked material and aircraft lost in conflict. 

The subject matter is of contemporary research interest given the fact that modern salvage technologies are enabling the unregulated and in some cases illegal recovery of materials from these sites. HMS Exeter is literally a wreck that ‘disappeared’ because of salvage undertaken in the Java Sea and the vessels of a number of states’ navies have suffered similar fates. Such interventions are sensitive given that the sites are the resting places of fallen military and other personnel, and have a specific status in law. Alongside the more visible loss of cultural property and potential disturbance of remains there is often an environmental damage component – appreciating the potential costs and social impacts of polluting incidents also factor into the appreciation of the issues involved in wreck disturbance.

The topic draws together current research interests and expertise in law, conflict history and maritime archaeology as well as environmental and cultural sustainability. 

Plymouth’s clear links to the military (HMS Exeter for example was Devonport constructed and based) and the Charlestown Museum’s wide-ranging collection provided a perfect backdrop to frame the exhibitions. It was hoped the posters would offer a thought-provoking introduction to some key concepts around the protection and management of underwater cultural heritage assets.

The exhibitions were of interest to those involved in heritage conservation policy, salvage law, maritime military history and wreck divers. 

Email jason.lowther@plymouth.ac.uk for further information.

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Today's events

Biography: Jason Lowther

Jason is an Associate Professor in Law at the University. His interests and expertise relate to UK and EU environmental law and the protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH). He has worked on research projects establishing the National Wildlife Crime Unit and in relation to difficulties in enforcing ‘wildlife crime’. He has delivered related research projects for the WWF and IFAW, and is a long standing trustee for the Wild Futures charity.

Jason contributed a chapter on offshore environmental assessment to English Heritage’s Marine Archaeology Legislation Project exploring the legislative options available to protect UCH cultural heritage. He has assisted in the drafting of advice to the MMO and the Joint Nautical Archaeological Policy Committee. He is currently leading a research project for Historic England into the better enforcement of the laws relating to the protection of heritage assets in the English inshore marine plan area.


Biography: Mike Williams

Mike is a University Visiting Research Fellow, a member of the University’s Marine Conservation and Policy Research Group (MarCoPol) and a former Honorary Professor at the Institute of Archaeology, UCL. 

He has published extensively on the law relating to the foreshore and seabed and underwater cultural heritage. He has advised government departments and agencies and was retained as an adviser to the Crown Estate (Marine Division) on foreshore and seabed law. Mike sits on the UK’s Joint Nautical Archaeological Policy Committee, is a member of the MoD’s Expert Panel on HMS Victory 1744, Deputy Chair of the Devon and Severn Inshore Fishery and Conservation Authority, Hon Secretary of the Nautical Archaeology Society, a Director of Mast Heritage, a Harbour Commissioner and a member of the Expert Network for UNESCO’s UK National Commission. 

A qualified commercial and recreational diver, Mike has conducted archaeological operations on several protected wreck sites.


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