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Of concern to a number of states are wrecks, particularly those from the two World Wars, which pose a pollution or navigation hazard but which also have historic or broader cultural value. The issue of hazardous wrecks was addressed in 2007 with the adoption of the Nairobi Wreck Removal Convention (“WRC” ), which allows states to remove, or have removed, a wreck that poses a hazard to the environment, to navigation or to the broader economic interests of the state. Designed to apply primarily in the exclusive economic zone, but also potentially in the territorial sea, the Convention clarifies states’ powers of intervention with regard to pollution hazards and extends existing powers to cover navigation hazards. This article examines the relationship between the WRC and hazardous historic wrecks. In particular, it considers how the WRC regime might be used to assist states in determining how to remove the hazard while at the same time protecting the historic value of the wreck. In doing so, consideration is also given to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001.
It has been said that a wreck is, by its nature, a thing of no commercial value.1 Indeed, far from being of value, it may constitute a hazard to navigation or to the marine environment, requiring its removal. Whether or not a wreck has commercial value is debatable,2 but it may certainly have non-commercial values arising from: its archaeological or historical significance; its status as a memorial or gravesite; its public access use, such as for recreational diving or fishing; or its importance as a component of a marine ecosystem. The maintenance of these values generally depends upon the wreck’s remaining in situ.