18.03.2019 - Culture Sector

Ministers from the Eastern Africa region commit to strengthening the protection and promotion of underwater cultural heritage

Participants in the Regional Ministerial Conference on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage in Eastern Africa, 11 March 2019, Malindi, Kenya © George Kikami

On 11 March 2019, UNESCO and the Kenyan Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage, together with the National Museums of Kenya and the Kenyan National Commission for UNESCO mobilized 75 stakeholders to participate in a UNESCO Regional Conference to raise awareness on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage for Sustainable Tourism Development in Eastern Africa and the adjacent Indian Ocean Islands.

The regional conference on the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which took place at the Ocean Beach Resort in Malindi, Kenya, brought together Ministers and their representatives, Museum Directors, Directors of Culture, national and international experts in underwater cultural heritage as well as Secretary Generals and representatives of UNESCO National Commissions from the 13 countries covered by the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa: Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. The conference was opened by H.E. Mr. Hassan Noor Hassan, the Chief Administrative Secretary and Ms. Josephta Mukobe, Principal Secretary, from the Kenyan Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage alongside Hon. Mr. Amerson Kingi, Kilifi County Governor and the Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, Ms. Ann Therese Ndong-Jatta.

Shipwrecks and underwater ruins have become increasingly accessible along the Indian Ocean coastline. While professional equipment and a high level of training remain necessary to undertake excavations, submerged archaeological sites are no longer beyond the reach of treasure hunters. Thus, many undersea archaeological sites are pillaged without recourse to scientific and archaeological exploration methods. Similarly, the fishing industry, the laying of pipelines, and other ocean floor activities can damage or destroy underwater cultural heritage. Once this fragile heritage is destroyed or removed, countries lose the opportunity to undertake research and to develop sustainable tourism linked to the sites, which could take the form of dive tourism or the representation of underwater cultural heritage in museum collections.  In the Eastern Africa Region, only Madagascar has ratified the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

Over 20 national and international media representatives attended the conference and press conferences took place with the high-level officials present, who shared the Recommendations of the conference with the media:


  • To ratify and implement the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage;
  • To take measures to raise awareness of underwater cultural heritage, foster its representation in museums, and develop its potential for sustainable tourism in the region;
  • To mobilize the appropriate authorities of our States to elaborate inventories and to integrate the provisions of the 2001 Convention into domestic law;
  • To create appropriate capacity building programmes in our schools and universities and within our competent authorities to educate and train underwater archaeologists to protect underwater cultural heritage in collaboration with African countries that have made substantial progress in this field as well as UNESCO Category 2 Centres, the UNITWIN (University Twinning and Networking) and UNESCO Chairs Programme related to Underwater Archaeology;
  • To foster the cooperation among stakeholders in our countries concerned with underwater cultural heritage and related types of heritage, and promote scientific research and cooperation in this area, including for shipwrecks related to the UNESCO Slave Route project;
  • To identify partners to finance protection and research of underwater cultural heritage, including the prevention and prohibition of looting and commercial exploitation of underwater cultural heritage;
  • To work with our UNESCO National Commissions to follow up on the commitments made by the Ministers and their representatives at the 11 March 2019 Malindi, Kenya conference regarding ratification and implementation of the 2001 Convention and to report the progress to the meeting on Underwater Cultural Heritage in France on 17 to 21 June 2019.

During her opening remarks, the Director of the UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa invited participants to observe a minute of silence for the renowned Italian expert in underwater cultural heritage, Professor Sebastiano Tusa, who was one of the victims of the tragic Ethiopian Airlines crash on 10 March 2019 and was scheduled to give the keynote address of the conference. Professor George Abungu (Kenya) paid homage to Professor Tusa during the keynote address, which he framed as a tribute to the late Professor’s life’s work in linking underwater cultural heritage with the Blue Economy.

The conference resulted in a higher level of awareness of the urgent need to protect underwater cultural heritage in the region as well as opportunities for sustainable tourism development linked with underwater cultural heritage. The participating ministers and their representatives committed to taking urgent action following the conference and agreed to report on follow-up activities taken during the upcoming meeting on underwater cultural heritage scheduled for July 2019 at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France.

Following the ministerial conference, international experts, museum directors and UNESCO National Commission representatives participated in a technical workshop on underwater cultural heritage on 12 March 2019, which further strengthened synergies for collaboration in the region.


Ministerial Recommendation from 11 March 2019 (PDF)

Results of the Regional Survey (PDF)

 Analysis Of The Responses To The Questionnaire (PDF)

 Regional Conference: web news

In Memorandum: Professor Sebastiano Tusa

2001 Convention EN / FR

Brochure EN / FR

Culture and the SDGs EN / FR

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