Emergency Preparedness and Response under the 2001 Convention

What is an emergency?


The 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage was created to combat the extensive pillage, commercial exploitation and illicit or unethical traffic of underwater cultural heritage. It is a comprehensive instrument, which fully addresses these issues in all waters. It considerably increases the legal protection of sites in situ and prohibits the illicit or unethical recovery and traffic of artefacts. It also calls for the mitigation of industrial impacts.

An emergency threatening underwater heritage can be caused by:


  • Treasure hunting (legal commercial exploitation or illegal pillage);
  • Industrial work (trawling, port works, mineral extraction etc.);
  • Lack of knowledge of the cultural importance of sites concerned, on archaeological needs, on conservation, etc.;
  • Natural dangers, such as erosion due to climate change;
  • Lack of laws and law enforcement.

Emergency Prevention under the 2001 Convention


The 2001 Convention contributes to the prevention of these dangers through its impact on the creation of appropriate laws protecting heritage. The Secretariat also contributes to raising national capacities and promotes international standards. The Convention contains strong and comprehensive obligations on the prevention of exploitation, pillage and traffic (legal and illegal) allowing sanctions and seizure. For instance States Parties are obligated to take measures to:


  • Prevent the entry into their territory, the dealing in, or the possession of, Underwater Cultural Heritage illicitly exported and/or recovered, where recovery was contrary to the Convention;
  • Prohibit the use of their territory by pillagers;
  • Control nationals and vessels and impose sanctions;
  • Seize Underwater Cultural Heritage in their territory that has been recovered in a manner not in conformity with the Convention.

Emergency Response under the 2001 Convention


The Convention responds to the need for emergency assistance. The crucial organ provided for this purpose is the Scientific and Technical Advisory Body (STAB), composed of 12 elite experts. The STAB gives advice to the Meeting of States Parties and assists it in technical and scientific matters relating to underwater heritage. STAB experts are however also readily available to assist as an emergency task force through missions to a State Party in need. In 2015, three STAB missions have been sent to Panama and Madagascar to assist these countries which face problems due to chance discoveries, treasure hunting, or scientific doubts. In 2014 a mission was also sent to Haiti.


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