The Cultural Resources Management Section coordinates compliance with laws and regulations pertaining to the preservation of the Navy’s historic ship and aircraft wrecks and archaeological wreck sites. Some of these duties include developing and maintaining an inventory of sites, monitoring the condition of the resources, conducting research, writing National Register nominations, evaluating and issuing permits for archaeological work on historic wrecks, and providing public education and outreach.
Washington Navy Yard, Bldg. 57 First Floor Map of the Washington Navy Yard and Information on Visiting the Naval Historical Center.
Protection of the nation’s heritage is an essential part of the Department of the Navy’s (DON) mission defense of the people, country, institutions, and legacy of the United States. Secretary of the Navy’s Instruction (SECNAVINST) 4000.35A, Section 4.b. states, “The DON is a large scale owner of historic buildings, districts, archaeological sites, ships, aircraft and other cultural resources. Protection of these elements of the nation’s heritage is an essential part of the defense mission, and the DON is committed to responsible cultural resources stewardship.” SECNAVINST 4000.35A establishes policy and assigns responsibilities within the DON for fulfilling cultural resource legal requirements. Management of the DON’s historic ship and aircraft wrecks are within the scope of the Navy’s historic preservation responsibilities and SECNAVINST 4000.35A assigns management responsibility for the Navy’s historic ship and aircraft wrecks to the Naval Historical Center (NHC).
The Department of the Navy (DON) has jurisdiction over thousands of ship and aircraft wrecks located around the globe. Navy custody of its wrecks is based on the property clause of the U.S. Constitution and international maritime law.
NHC’s preservation program includes sites that are 50 years-old or older, or those that have not yet met the 50-year threshold, but may carry exceptional historic significance. To be considered historic, sites must meet one or more of the criteria in the National Register of Historic Places.
To meet its responsibilities under Federal preservation laws and Navy regulations, NHC has a systematic and comprehensive program to identify, evaluate, inventory, manage, and preserve these resources, and to assist with interpreting and communicating their historical significance. The following link provides examples of some of the Navy’s historic ship and aircraft wrecks: Historic Ship and Aircraft Wrecks.
As stewards of the Navy’s historic sunken military craft, NHC manages these irreplaceable assets for the continued education and enjoyment of present and future generations. The effort encompasses the following categories: preservation planning; wrecksite management; research; curation; and public information, interpretation, and education. NHC strongly encourages cooperation with other agencies and individuals interested in preserving our maritime and aviation heritage.
Historic Ship and Aircraft Wreck Policy:
The Navy’s policy regarding its historic ship and aircraft wrecks is to generally leave them in place, a term called in-situ preservation. This practice is preferred because under normal circumstances, the site is often well preserved underwater, due to a low deterioration rate and lack of oxygen, and therefore is not, per se, in danger. Objects recovered from the seabed have to undergo a very extensive conservation process, which can become quite expensive and always includes a risk of deterioration of the object. In addition, military wrecks can contain war graves, unexploded ordnance or other sensitive weapons systems, or environmental contaminants.
Wrecksite disturbance or artifact removal may be justified and necessary to protect the sunken military craft, to conduct research, or provide public education and information that is otherwise inaccessible. While NHC prefers non-destructive, in situ research on sunken military craft, it recognizes that disturbance and/or artifact recovery may become necessary.
At such times, wrecksite disturbance and/or artifact recovery may be permitted, subject to conditions specified by NHC as set forth in permitting regulations, 32 CFR Part 767: Application Guidelines for Archeological Research Permits on Ship and Aircraft Wrecks Under the Jurisdiction of the Department of the Navy.