The Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference on 2 November 2001.
The Convention applies to all traces of human existence having a cultural, historical or archaeological character which have been under water for at least 100 years. Thus, 15 April 2012 marks the moment when the Titanic wreckage will be protected under the convention.
For the Titanic wreck the newly accorded protection will mean that all States Parties to the Convention will prohibit the pillaging, sale and dispersion of the wreck and its artifacts. They shall take all measures in their power to protect the site, and to ensure that proper respect is given to the human remains still to be found on it.
Since the Titanic wreck is located in international waters, no State has exclusive jurisdiction over the wreckage area.
On the occasion of the Titanic anniversary, the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, expressed her concern about the ongoing destruction and pillaging of thousands of ancient shipwrecks worldwide. She stressed that the concern about the commercial exploitation of the Titanic was not a unique case, even if it was an exceptionally visible one.
The sinking of the Titanic is an event that lingers in humanity’s memory. But many other shipwrecks are memorials to exceptional human tragedies, and should be considered archaeological sites. The precious underwater cultural heritage that the relics of the vessels constitute should be protected.
The wreckage of RMS Titanic was discovered on September 1, 1985, during a joint French/U.S. expedition lead by Jean-Luis Michel of the French Research Institution for the Exploration of the Seas (IFREMER) and Dr. Robert Ballard. It was found approximately 340 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada 3,800 meters beneath the waters in the so-called High Seas, i.e. international waters.