Naval History and Heritage Command

The Sunken Military Craft Act (SMCA) was enacted on October 28, 2004. Its primary purpose is to preserve and protect from unauthorized disturbance all sunken military craft that are owned by the United States government, as well as foreign sunken military craft that lie within U.S. waters. Pursuant to the SMCA, the Navy's sunken military craft remain property of the U.S. regardless of their location or the passage of time and may not be disturbed without the permission from the U.S. Navy.

 

NHHC's Underwater Archaeology Branch manages the Navy's collection of over 17,000 ship and aircraft wrecks located around the world. These craft, and their associated contents, represent a collection of non-renewable and significant historical resources that often serve as war graves, carry unexploded ordnance, and contain oil or other hazardous materials. Accordingly, it is the overall policy of the Department of the Navy that its sunken and terrestrial military craft remain in place and undisturbed.  

 

As authorized by the SMCA, the Department of the Navy established a permitting program to allow for controlled site disturbance of sunken and terrestrial military craft for archaeological, historical, or educational purposes. Learn more about NHHC's  permitting process by visiting the Permitting Program page and the Frequently Asked Questions page.

 

The SMCA does not affect commercial fishing, laying of submarine cables, non-intrusive recreational diving, salvage of vessels that do not qualify as sunken military craft, and the routine operation of ships.