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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY & HERITAGE COMMAND
UNDERWATER ARCHAEOLOGY BRANCH

In Defense of Perpetual Title to Sovereign Wrecks

Rand R. Pixa1

My father, an Army officer who sailed aboard Navy and merchant ships demised to the Federal Government during World War II, put it simply that ships belonging to the Government were a little piece of the United States and carried the rights of sovereign territory with them.  At least that is as much as I can remember of his explanation of the subject to me when I was age ten or twelve.  Of course, the strictures of international law are more sophisticated than that simple prescription, but the principles my father explained reflect the legal distinctions setting sovereign vessels apart from those privately owned or engaged in commercial service.

The thesis of this paper is that the investiture of sovereign rights in a ship changes its character as a result of that expression of sovereign intent and that it is the form of that intent thereafter that either clothes the ship with the incidents of sovereignty including perpetual sovereign title or removes or conditions the character of sovereignty, and that it is only the sovereign who can make that determination.  It follows that sovereign rights, including all the rights of ownership, extend over sovereign property so long as the sovereign or its successor so intends. The consequence of that is that sunken sovereign ships should not be treated in the same manner as those that are privately owned in that the former are not subject to unintended abandonment, the law of finds, or unconsented salvage indefinitely after their loss, because unlike private ships their sovereign owners or their successors carry on indefinitely.

From ancient times, the presence of an armed ship of a foreign sovereign in the waters of another state raised concern and would be tolerated only under limited circumstances.  Such a ship might be driven into the territorial waters of another state by force majeure and would be considered innocent if it were to engage in no conduct inimical to the prerogatives of the sovereign whose waters were visited, leaving as reasonably soon as conditions permitted.2  Or it could carry the ambassadors of one sovereign to another, therefore being cloaked in the historic privileges afforded to such emissaries so long as its mission was limited to the ambassadors' diplomacy.3  And naturally the sovereign ship as the representative of a foreign sovereign could enter the waters of another state by invitation, restricted in its activities by the terms of the continuing forebearance of the visited state.  Under any of the foregoing circumstances the innocence of the visiting ship was the prerequisite for its continuing presence within the territorial waters of the visited state.  On the other hand, if the warship of a foreign sovereign entered another sovereign's territory for other than the aforementioned purposes, violated the conditions of an otherwise innocent visit, or overstayed its welcome, the violation could be considered an act of war.4

Modern international law reflects the special status conferred on sovereign vessels.  The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) handled the compromise between the unequivocal sovereignty of a warship and the rights of a coastal state by limiting coastal sovereign rights through the right of innocent passage.5  The right of innocent passage is limited and designed to ensure such passage is truly innocent.6  UNCLOS Article 30 specifies the mechanism to remedy breach of specified innocence.  "If any warship does not comply with the laws and regulations of the coastal State concerning passage through the territorial sea and disregards any request for compliance therewith which is made to it, the coastal State may require it to leave the territorial sea immediately."  The modern remedy is fundamentally the same as that described by Grotius.7  But "Ships owned or operated by a State and used only on government non-commercial service shall, on the high seas, have complete immunity from the jurisdiction of any State other than the flag State.8

It is on the body of international law which extends from Hugo Grotius in the seventeenth century to UNCLOS that the positions of leading maritime states regarding the perpetual ownership of their sovereign ships rests.  The following is a recitation of some of those positions.

Germany: "Under international law, warships and other vessels or aircraft owned or operated by a State and used only on government non-commercial service ("State vessels and aircraft'') continue to enjoy sovereign immunity after sinking, wherever they are located. The Federal Republic of Germany also retains ownership of any German State vessel or aircraft owned by it or the German Reich at the time of its sinking. Further, many sunken warships and aircraft are maritime graves, which have to be respected. No intrusive action may be taken in relation to German State vessels or aircraft without the express consent of the German Government."9

Japan: "According to international law, sunken State vessels, such as warships and vessels on government service, regardless of location or of the time elapsed remain the property of the State owning them at the time of their sinking unless it explicitly and formally relinquishes its ownership. Such sunken vessels should be respected as maritime graves. They should not be salvaged without the express consent of the Japanese Government."10

Russian Federation: "Under international law of the sea all the sunken warships and government aircraft remain the property of their flag State. The Government of the Russian Federation retains ownership of any Russian sunken warship, including the warships of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, regardless the time they sank. These craft are considered places of special governmental protection and cannot be salvaged without special permission of the Government of the Russian Federation."11

Spain: "The Embassy of Spain presents its compliments to the Department of State and has the honor to address the matter of Spanish laws and policy regarding the remains of sunken vessels that were lost while in the service of the Kingdom of Spain and/or were transporting property of the Kingdom of Spain. In accordance with Spanish and international law, Spain has not abandoned or otherwise relinquished its ownership or other interests with respect to such vessels and/or its contents, except by specific action pertaining to particular vessels or property taken by Royal Decree or Act of Parliament in accordance with Spanish law. Many such vessels also are the resting place of military and/or civilian casualties.

"The Embassy of Spain accordingly wishes to give notice that salvage or other disturbance of sunken vessels or their contents in which Spain has such interests is not authorized and may not be conducted without express consent by an authorized representative of the Kingdom of Spain."12

United Kingdom: "Under international law, warships, naval auxiliaries, and other vessels or aircraft owned or operated by a State and used only on government non-commercial service ("State vessels and aircraft") enjoy sovereign immunity. State vessels and aircraft continue to enjoy sovereign immunity after sinking, unless they were captured by another State prior to sinking or the flag State has expressly relinquished its rights. The flag State's rights are not lost merely by the passage of time. Further, many sunken State vessels and aircraft are maritime graves, which should be respected. No intrusive action may be taken in relation to the United Kingdom's sovereign immune State vessels or aircraft without the express consent of the United Kingdom."13

Respect for perpetual title and sovereign rights in sunken sovereign vessels is deeply embedded and broadly respected in international law.  Take for example the Protocol Concerning Cooperation in Combating Pollution Emergencies in the South Pacific Region (Emergency Protocol) under consideration by South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) nations.14  Supporting the Protocol is the SPREP "Regional Strategy to Address Marine Pollution from World War II Wrecks,"15 containing broad recognition of the applicable international law principles.

"Internationally, there is currently no multi-lateral legal instrument governing the ownership of sunken warships or military aircraft.  However there is a well-developed body of customary international law governing the treatment of sunken warships and military aircraft.

"The Law of the Sea Convention, Articles 95-96 and also the 1958 High Seas Convention Articles 8-9, state that warships, naval auxiliaries, and other vessels owned and operated by a state and used at the time they sank only on government non-commercial service, are defined as "state vessels."  International Law recognizes that state vessels, and their associated cargoes, whether or not sunken, are entitled to sovereign immunity.

"Precedents under international law indicate that there are only three ways through which ownership of a warship or state vessel can be transferred:

"Once hostilities have ceased, protagonists do not acquire any title to vessels through the act of sinking them.  Likewise title to the vessel is not lost by the mere passage of time.

"A Coastal State does not acquire ownership of a sunken state vessel by reason of its being located on, or embedded in, land or the seabed over which it exercises sovereignty or jurisdiction. However, access to such sunken state vessels within a Coastal State's archipelagic waters, territorial sea or contiguous zone, is subject to Coastal State control under international law. Access to sunken vessels beyond the limits stated in the preceding sentence is subject to Flag State control even though they may be still within a Coastal State's Exclusive Economic Zone.

"Once hostilities have ceased, no person or State may salvage or attempt to salvage sunken state vessels, wherever located, without the express permission of the sovereign Flag State. Sunken state vessels that contain crew remains are entitled to special respect and must not be disturbed without the explicit permission of the Flag State.

"It is clear from the above assessment of customary international law and also precedents under international law that any action that disturbs sunken state vessels can only be undertaken with the consent of their Flag States."

The position regarding perpetual sovereign title has also been taken by the United States consistently since at least the 1980s, as evidenced by a substantial body of case law and agreements with other nations respecting their rights to their sovereign wrecks. 

Contemporary U.S. judicial history of the treatment of the sovereign wrecks of the United States begins with Hatteras, Inc. v. The U.S.S. HATTERAS,16 in which the claim of the salvor was denied.  Hatteras, Inc., argued that the United States' neglect of the wreck for over one hundred years after its 1863 sinking amounted to abandonment.  The Court stated "[I]t is well settled that title to property of the United States cannot be divested by negligence, delay, laches, mistake or unauthorized actions by subordinate officials[,]" explaining further that U.S. government property may only be disposed in the manner prescribed by Congress.

In U.S. v. Steinmetz,17 the so-called Alabama-bell case, the purchaser in due course of the bell was deprived of possession by the United States' superior right in title.  By his account Richard Steinnetz, an antique dealer, acquired the bell at a London gun show in 1979; it had reportedly been recovered from the 1864 wreck of CSS Alabama in 1936 by a diver who placed it in a bar in trade for drinking privileges.  The bell came to the attention of Navy officials in 1990 when Mr. Steinmetz put it up for auction.  After Mr. Steinmetz refused to turn the bell over to the Navy, the Government filed an action against him for its return.  The Court determined that the United States was the successor sovereign to the Confederacy and had acquired all right and title to the property of the Confederate States of America including the Alabama and the bell, finding that it had not been abandoned.18

The next landmark case was that confirming ownership of the Juno and of LaGalga in the Kingdom of Spain.19  The two ships were lost on the Virginia coast in 1750 and 1802 respectively and lay undisturbed until they were reportedly found by Sea Hunt, Inc., in the late 1990s.  Sea Hunt claimed a salvage award against them or in the alternative asked the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to award title under the law of finds.  Assuming the identity of the ships to be that claimed by Sea Hunt, the Court ruled that both vessels were the sovereign vessels, and that they had not been abandoned absent an express renunciation of ownership by the Kingdom of Spain.  The Court further held that because Spain had expressly rejected salvage, Sea Hunt was not entitled to a salvage award.

The case of Juno and LaGalga is interesting also in two other respects.  First, procedurally, the Court barred the U.S. Justice Department from representing Spain at that government's request pursuant to the 1902 Treaty of Friendship between the two countries.  This case is included among expressions of U.S. Government policy as a consequence of the Government's interest and support throughout the proceedings, manifested through the rare move to represent a foreign sovereign.  Second, the case represented the first time the Kingdom of Spain had asserted title to any wreck lost during the Spanish colonial period.  Previously the government of Spain had been reluctant to do so, presumably as a result of the sensitivity of its former colonies and the frequent claim that the King's ships were the means of "looting" Latin America.

And most recently, the protracted litigation involving a World War II "Devastator" TBD-1 clarified the rights of the United States in the context of unwanted salvage.20  Notwithstanding the Navy's repeated, express rejection of salvage of a historic aircraft in 800 feet of water off Florida, the would-be salvor twice brought components of the aircraft into the District Court seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of the Court, seeking a salvage award and claiming that Government officials had induced the undertaking.  It was finally determined on appeal that the United States remained the owner absent official, express renunciation of ownership, and upon remand that a salvage award was not warranted because the U.S. had objected to salvage of the aircraft.  The stakes were high in this case because not only was the aircraft the last of its kind, but it also had a distinguished history in the Battles of Midway and Coral Sea.  Given the risks attendant to any recovery attempt from the deep, rapidly moving water at the wreck site, the Navy preferred in situ preservation over any attempt to move the wreck.  Conversely the salvor perceived the exceptional value associated with this unique wreck.

The legal principles underlying the case law have also found voice in the resolution of ownership issues between U.S. governmental interests and state or foreign governments.  The cases of the H.L. Hunley and His Majesty's ship La Belle illuminate the point.  Hunley was the first submarine successful in sinking an enemy combatant ship, USS Housatonic, on February 17, 1863.  La Belle was a transport employed by French explorer LaSalle in his ill-fated 17th century Gulf Coast colonial adventure.

Adventure author Clive Cussler found the long-lost wreck of the H.L. Hunley in 1995, whereupon Mr. Cussler delivered the coordinates of the wreck to the Navy, which began consideration of disposition of the historic wreck while taking extraordinary measures to protect it from disturbance.21  The matter was complicated by the projected necessity for up to $40 million to so conserve the wreck to prevent it from falling to dust within a couple of years and to provide for any human remains that might be found within it.  The key legal principle was that it, like CSS Alabama, was found to be property of the Confederacy to which the United States is the successor sovereign.  The problem was that while the United States claimed ownership through the Navy, South Carolina attempted to claim it as resting in that State's waters, which it did not, and Alabama sought to wrest control because it had been built in Mobile.  The matter was finally resolved with a political compromise between the states and an agreement by the United States to allow Hunley to remain in South Carolina indefinitely so long as the state recognized the Federal Government's legal title to the wreck.

And if that were not a sufficiently politically charged environment in which to assert sovereign title, the case of La Belle presented an even more troublesome case.  Archaeologists from the University of Texas discovered the wreck of La Belle in Matagordo Bay, Texas, where it had rested since 1686.   With backing from the State of Texas, over $4 million was invested in recovery efforts, including building a cofferdam around the wreck site to support a high-quality archaeological project.   But the legal headache was likely to surpass the probable condition of the crewmember whose remains were found in a fetal position near what remained of a brandy cask on board.  So remarkable was the archaeological undertaking that it garnered substantial press coverage, including a feature pictorial article in the Smithsonian magazine.22  And it is that which demanded the attention of the French Embassy, whose officials might have thought it anomalous that the United States should claim ownership of CSS Alabama in French waters while La Belle was being explored without France's consent.  The matter was complicated by Federal-state relationship issues, but resolved with an arrangement reciprocal to that in place regarding CSS Alabama; the agreement recognized the title of the Government of France in La Belle while permitting the intensive University of Texas research program to go forward.

While presumption of the indefinite existence of a sovereign owner warrants indefinite duration of the sovereign's intention of ownership, there are also policy reasons for the disparate treatment of sunken public and private vessels.  One reason to favor abandonment doctrine with respect to privately owned ships is to resolve ambiguity in ownership where their former incarnate owners or corporate entities have faded from memory.  The second is that one of the principal rationales for the law of salvage is to return commercial goods and choses in action back to the stream of commerce.  But neither of those fit with the circumstances of sunken sovereign ships that the sovereign owner could recover if it so desired.  Separately, sovereign warships are frequently the final resting places of the soldiers or sailors who sailed aboard them, they may contain munitions or other substances potentially harmful to those who disturb them or to the environment, and/or they may contain objects of unique historical or cultural significance or represent significant historical circumstances.  The many German U-boats sunken in the Atlantic and United States waters are no less hallowed to those who perished with them than to the U.S. sailors entombed in USS Arizona.  As evidenced by the oil leaks occurring from many World War II wrecks in the Pacific, there is certainly a large amount of oil that sank with them.23  Unmindful disturbance could do irreparable harm to the marine environment and the economies of coastal states.  And any hope of historical study was lost when when Phillipine fishermen paid by American traders in historic goods dynamited the wreck of the USS Charleston24 to recover coins to be sold.

Another policy argument for not subjecting sovereign wrecks to the vicissitudes of presumptive abandonment or salvage is that to do so is to breach the public trust which built or outfitted them in the first place.  Absent an authorized abandonment or consent to salvage, the sovereign's or public interest continues withstanding sinking.  As a logical matter why should sinking somehow change the character of a sovereign ship?  An infant might think something ceases to exist when covered with a blanket.  But a sovereign ship covered with water exists in the same condition on the bottom as when sinking from under the crew onboard.  And by the same token, the body public which created it continues to exist indefinitely after the sinking, ever able to affirmatively abandon it or available to reject or consent to salvage. 

Two instances stand out as of the worst sort when even commercial legal nicety is not observed as to sunken sovereign property.  Assuming the facts around the CSS Alabama bell to have been true, the public as a whole was denied its benefit from 1926 to 1990 while it was sequestered in private hands.  Similarly, a swivel gun from one of the gunboats of Benedict Arnold's fleet on Lake Champlain was lost to the interested public while it too was in unauthorized private hands.  Having been reportedly recovered in the 1930s, unprofessional cleaning removed its provenance before it rested on an Adirondack mantelpiece for more than fifty years out of the public view.  The loss was unique because the swivel gun had been cast by the same foundry that cast the Liberty Bell.25  While the later instances are of the worst sort, many divers and commercial interests would take sovereign property funded by the respective publics and put it in private hands outside the enjoyment of the publics who paid for it.

It is in that context of protecting sunken sovereign ships and aircraft of the United States, that Government officials sought legislation to codify and ensure the uniformity of application of the body of law that has emerged over the last twenty years.  It is apparent they sought to minimize risk to sovereign wrecks and to replace the delay and cost of litigation to enforce applicable case law with statutorily certain results.  Title XIV of the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 200526 pertaining to "Sunken Military Craft" (hereinafter "Sunken Military Craft act" or "SMCa"27) and providing for their protection was passed into law on October 8, 2004, and presented to the President on October 21, 2004.28

The principle premise of the SMCa is that "Right, title, and interest of the United States in and to any United States sunken military craft--- (1) shall not be extinguished except by an express divestiture of title by the United Sates; and (2) shall not be extinguished by the passage of time, regardless of when the sunken military craft sank."29  This is the doctrine of perpetual sovereign title enunciated by case law extending from the U.S. Constitution's Property Clause.30  The principle is founded on the view that the body politic as sovereign should not be deprived of its property through application of subordinate law other than as prescribed.  Prior application had refined the rule to mean that only Congress might act to give authority to abandon or dispose of the vessels and aircraft of the United States.31 

The statute defines covered "sunken military craft" as all or any portion of "any sunken warship, naval auxiliary, or other vessel that was owned or operated by a government on military noncommercial service when it sank[,]" along with sunken military aircraft and spacecraft, and their associated contents,32 and reaches them across debris fields.33  All activity and attempts "directed at a sunken military craft that disturbs, removes, or injures any sunken military craft," except as authorized or subject to a permit, is prohibited.34 Those who violate the prohibition are subject to civil penalties of up to $100,000 per day of violation and liable for damage to and specified consequential damages arising from the prohibited activities35 including mitigation of damage resulting from disturbance.36  And violators may be subject to otherwise applicable criminal law sanctions.37  Activities otherwise prohibited may be carried on only as provided by a permit issued by the "Secretary concerned."38

Significantly, the SMCa excludes sunken military craft from the operation of the two tenets of maritime law frequently used to assert discoverers' claims against sunken wrecks.  The law of finds has long been favored as a means to win the award of title to the historic shipwrecks premised on abandonment.  Absent a showing of abandonment, recourse could be had under the law of salvage, awards of which could result in some large portion of recovered materials being awarded to the salvor.  The plaintiff who sought to recover the Navy's TBD-1 "Devastator"39 asserted both causes, albeit unsuccessfully.  To preclude recourse to those remedies, the SMCa prescribes that "The law of finds shall not apply to --- (1) any United Sates sunken military craft, wherever located; or (2) any foreign sunken military craft located in United States waters."40  It further states that "No salvage rights or awards shall be granted with respect to --- (1) any United States sunken military craft without the express permission of the United States; or (2) any foreign sunken military craft located in United States waters without the express permission of the relevant foreign state."41  The provisions extend the jurisdiction of the United States to the maximum degree possible, consistent with the notion that sovereign vessels carry their sovereign status with them and that a coastal state can regulate activities within its waters.  Note however that the exercise of jurisdiction in the latter case is without prejudice to sovereign ownership rights in foreign vessels.

The law also strengthens common interests in sunken military craft with foreign sovereigns through extension of the SMCa's general prohibition to foreign sunken military craft and other provisions.  The Secretary of the Navy may carry out permitting at the request and on behalf of a foreign state.42  And "the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense, is encouraged to negotiate and conclude bilateral and multilateral agreements with foreign countries with regard to sunken military craft...."43 These are important provisions.  While the SMCa extends the protection of the Act to United States sunken military craft wherever situate,44 the cooperation of foreign coastal and port states will be necessary to provide practical protection for U.S sunken state craft outside the ken of the United States.  Reciprocity will further those interests.

The SMCa is consistent with notions of sovereign prerogative.  The law of finds may be applied to private vessels whose owners’ inaction for an extended period evidences intentional or neglectful abandonment.45  Traditional salvage principles also may be apposite to the recovery of commercial vessels and cargo for policy reasons favoring the return of choses in action to the stream of commerce and encouraging the recovery of marine property in peril.  But the same inaction of a state with respect to a sovereign vessel may represent a conscious decision on the part of the sovereign owner to avoid risk of environmental damage, a national policy regarding the sanctity of the watery graves of its sailors, or a conscious decision to await technological improvement of recovery techniques.  While private owners of sunken vessels may disappear after the passage of a few years, the continued existence of a sovereign owner or successor sovereign is presumptive. 

The SMCa therefore preserves the deliberateness of consideration with respect to preservation of sunken military craft.  Application of the law of finds to sunken military craft might compel a sovereign owner to make poorly ordered recovery sequence decisions simply to avoid losing its property.  Applicability of salvage law might have the same coercive effect on a government's decision making, or might divest the sovereign of valuable or historic property simply to pay a salvage award.  A higher level of deliberation and freedom from decision-making externalities should work to the overall benefit of maritime historic preservation since officials should be free to establish priorities consistent with the availability of funds and adequate to complete curation professionally.  Presumably better decisions in the overall public interest would derive free from selfish commercial motives.  Critics of the policies underpinning the SMCa might argue that reservation of recovery decisions to sovereigns impede recovery overall, but since available permitting procedures46 facilitate public-private partnerships, recoveries that inure to the public benefit should not be impaired.  On the other hand, the law of finds or salvage as applied to sovereign wrecks merely subsidizes private recoveries at public expense, with no guarantee that the public may view or study that sovereign property in the future.

The principle of perpetual sovereign title to sovereign wrecks may well turn out to be one of the most important tools for historic preservation available at this time when almost all of the world's wrecks have become accessible.  Reinforcement and codification of the principle is vitally important.


1 Mr. Pixa is a licensed attorney, a Proctor in Admiralty designated by the Maritime Law Association of the United States, and a visiting fellow of the International Maritime Law Institute.  He served as Admiralty Counsel of the United States Navy from 1995 through 1999 and as Senior Admiralty Counsel until 2002.  This paper and any associated presentation were prepared in a private capacity.  All opinions expressed herein are exclusively those of the author and are not represented to, nor necessarily, reflect the opinion or position of any other person or entity, public or private. 

2 See, Grotius, Hugo, On the Law of War and Peace, Book II, Chapter 3, section VI.

3 Id., Book II, Chapter 18.

4 Id., Book II, Chapter 18, sections IV & XXV.

5 UNCLOS Art. 17.

6 Ibid., Arts. 19 and 20.

7 Grotius, note 2 supra, Book II, Chapter 18, section IV. 

8 UNCLOS, Art. 96.

9 Communication from the German Foreign Ministry, October 30, 2003.

10 Communication from the Government of Japan, September 13, 2003.

11 Communication from the Government of the Russian Federation, October 3, 2003.

12 Embassy of Spain, Washington, DC, Note No. 128, December 19, 2002.

13 Communication from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, July 4, 2003.

14  Cook Islands, Fiji Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, and Pacific Island Territories of American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, French Polynesia, Guam, New Caledonia, Tokelau, and Wallis and Futuna.

15 www.sprep.org.ws/publication/webpage/004ship_waste_ww2/WWII_strategy/_private/Regional Strategy WWII Wrecks.doc (no longer an active web site)

16 1984 AMC 1094 (S.D. Tex. 1981), aff'd, 698 f.2D 1215 (5TH Cir. 1982).

17 763 F.Supp. 1293 (D.N.J. 1991), aff'd, 973 f.2D 212 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. den., 113 S.Ct. 1578 (1993)

18 CSS Alabama, which rests in French waters, is managed by France's Association CSS Alabama under the auspices of the French Ministry of Culture pursuant to a 1995 agreement with the United States Government recognizing United States title to the wreck and providing for curatorial collaboration and cultural exchanges.  United States ownership was recognized by the government of the Republic of France in the Verbal Note No 2826 (Oct. 18, 1991).

19 Sea Hunt v. Unidentified Shipwrecked Vessel, 221 F.3d 634 (4th Cir. 2000), cert. den., 121 S.Ct. 1079 (2001).

20 International Aircraft Recovery, LLC. v.  Unidentified, Wrecked, and Abandoned Aircraft,  218 F.3d 1255 (11th Cir. 2000

21 The Navy installed a camera in a lighthouse overlooking the wreck site off the Charleston, South Carolina, coast while the Coast Guard maintained patrol surveillance of the site.  Reported offers of up to $100,000 for the Hunley's propeller, for example, prompted the action.

22 Vol. 28, no. 1, April 1997.

23 2 million gallons were pumped from the sunken USS Mississenewa.  SPREP Agenda Item 8.2.3: Progress on Implementation of Regional Strategy to Address Marine Pollution from World War II Wrecks, www.sprep.org.ws/Publication/webpage/002sprep14th/14SM_Off_WP_8_2_3_.pdf (no longer an active web site)

24 USS Charleston, Admiral Dewey's flagship, was lost in February, 1898.  It carried a substantial number of period silver and gold coins of Mexican and U.S. origin.

25 The swivel gun was recovered from a dealer in 1998 without cost to the Government.  It is on loan from the Naval Historical Center to the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, where it is on public display.

26 HR 4200. 

27 As part of the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005, reference is made hereinafter to Title XIV as the "Sunken Military Craft act"  ("SMCa"), inasmuch as the Title is sufficiently discrete to as to have stood as a separate act of Congress.  The full text of the Sunken Military Craft act is appended at the end of this article.

28 Status at the time of time of this writing, Oct. 24, 2004.

29 Sec. 1401.

30 Article 4, Section 3, Clause 2.  "The Congress shall have Power to dispose of and make all needful Rules and Regulations respecting the Territory or other Property belonging to the United States; and nothing in this Constitution shall be so construed as to Prejudice any Claims of the United States, or of any particular State."

31 See, USS Hatteras, note 14, supra.

32 Sec. 1408 (3)

33 Sec. 1408 (1) (B)

34 Sec. 1402

35 Sec. 1404 (a)-(c)

36 Sec. 1405

37 Sec. 1406

38 Sec. 1403

39 n.17, supra.

40 Sec. 1406 (c)

41 Sec. 1407 (d)

42 Sec. 1403 (d)

43 Sec. 1407

44 Although not so stated explicitly, Congressional intent may be inferred from the absence of language of geographic limitation generally with respect to United States sunken military craft, noting the explicit inapplicability of the law of finds to "any United States sunken military craft, wherever located[,]" in contrast to exclusion of that body of law from applicability to "any foreign sunken military craft located in United States waters[,]" and inapplicability of the law of salvage to "any foreign sunken military craft located in United States waters without the express permission of the relevant foreign state."  Sec. 1406 (c) - (d).  Since Congress limited the geographic applicability of certain provisions, the SMCa's otherwise unlimited prescriptions with respect to other matters, consistent with the basic tenets of international law with regard to portable sovereign immunity, evidence that more expansive intent.

45 See, e.g., Deep Sea Research, Inc. v. The Brother Jonathan, 102 F.3d 379, 387-88 (9th Cir. 1996), aff'd in part, vacated in part on other grounds, and remanded, 118 S.Ct. 1464 (1998)

46 See, e.g., 32 CFR 767.


28 March 2009