14.09.2012 - Culture Sector

Director-General calls on Member States to support a 2014 commemorative event highlighting the extensive underwater cultural heritage from World War I in occasion of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of that war

© A. Vanzo/UNESCOWreck of the cargo ship "Togo" which sunk during the First World War in 1918 and lies at a depth of about 55 m in the bay of Cavalaire, France

The 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, during which thousands of ships sank and millions of persons lost their lives, will be commemorated in 2014. From that year, the submerged heritage dating back to the period 1914-1918 will begin to come under the scope of the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. To mark this anniversary, the Scientific and Technical Advisory Body of the Convention has recommended the organization of a commemorative event highlighting the very extensive underwater heritage dating from this period, as well as the human component of World War I.

Member States have been invited by the Director-General to support this important initiative.

World War I lasted from 28 July 1914 until 11 November 1918 and resulted in immense human losses. The experiences of the war led to a collective trauma and the League of Nations was founded as its result. It was the first permanent international organization and was the predecessor of the United Nations.

From the naval part of World War I remain a great number of historic relics and sites, of which many of the largest ones are submerged, including thousands of battleships. Many of them are grave-sites. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was over 35 million and a large part of them died in the naval fights.

The Advisory Body of the 2001 Convention therefore agreed unanimously that the 100th anniversary of WW I, from which numerous wrecks of ships and aircraft resulting from this war would begin to fall under the protection of the 2001 Convention (with the 100th anniversary of their respective submersion), should be appropriately commemorated.

Special attention was drawn to the importance of the conflict and the global, international and humanitarian aspects of the naval war of WWI. Attention was also called to the endangered situation of the related sites created by natural and human causes. The mostly metallic wrecks are affected by corrosion, the build-up of rust like formations and the interaction with marine life. The Advisory Body was also concerned by extensive pillage and commercial exploitation of the wrecks. In recent years, many of them have fallen victim to metal recovery or have come into the target of enterprises seeking to recover valuable cargoes in disregard to their grave-yard function.

The Advisory Body did in consequence recommend to organize an international commemorative event in the year 2014 and to identify appropriate funds for this. The Body did also recommend involving States not yet Parties to the 2001 Convention and other international organizations concerned, like the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Maritime Organization and others. The State marines and national heritage agencies could also be involved. It was furthermore recommended to gather information and material related to the submerged heritage from World War I for the education of the public.

Contact:  Ulrike Guerin, u.guerin(a)unesco.org, Tel: +33 14568446

Website:  www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/underwater-cultural-heritage

<- Back to: Underwater Cultural Heritage
Back to top