Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 19871

AN ACT To establish the title of States in certain abandoned shipwrecks, and for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of america in Congress assembled, 


  This Act may be cited as the "Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987". 


  The Congress finds that- 

    (a) States have the responsibility for management of a broad range of  living and nonliving resources in State waters and submerged lands; and 

    (b) included in the range of resources are certain abandoned shipwrecks which have been deserted and to which the owner has relinquished ownership rights with no retention.


  For purposes of this Act-

    (a) the term "embedded" means firmly affixed in the submerged lands or in
  coralline formations such that the use of tools of excavation is required in
  order to move the bottom sediments to gain access to t he shipwreck, its
  cargo and any part thereof;

    (b) the term "National Register" means the National Register of Historic
  Places maintained by the Secretary of the Interior under section 101 of the
  National Historic Preservation Act (16 U.S.C. 470a);

    (c) the terms "public lands", "Indian lands", and "Indian tribe" have the
  same meaning given the terms in the Archaeological Resource Protection Act
  of 1979 (16 U.S.C. 470aa-470ll);

    (d) the term "shipwreck" means a vessel or wreck, its cargo, and other

    (e) the term "State" means a State of the United States, the District of
  Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the
  Northern Mariana Islands; and

    (f) the term "submerged lands" means the lands-

        (1) that are "lands beneath navigable waters," as defined in section 2
    of the Submerged Lands Act (43 U.S.C. 1301);

        (2) of Puerto Rico, as described in section 8 of the Act of March 2,
    1917, as amended (48 U.S.C. 749);

        (3) of Guam, the Virgin Islands and America Samoa, as described in
    section 1 of Public Law 93-435 (48 U.S.C. 1705); and

        (4) of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as described
    in section 801 of Public Law 94-241 (48 U.S.C. 1681).


  (a) ACCESS RIGHTS. -In order to-

      (1) clarify that State waters and shipwrecks offer recreational and 
  and educational opportunities to sport divers and other interested groups,
  as well as irreplaceable State resources for tourism, biological
  sanctuaries, and historical research; and

      (2) provide that reasonable access by the public to such abandoned
  shipwrecks be permitted by the Sate holding title to such shipwrecks
  pursuant to section 6 of this Act,

  it is the declared policy of the Congress that States carry out their
  responsibilities under this Act to develop appropriate and consistent
  policies so as to-

        (A) protect national resources and habitat areas;

        (B) guarantee recreational exploration of shipwreck sites; and

        (C) allow for appropriate public and private sector recovery of
     shipwrecks consistent with the protection of historical values and
     environmental integrity of the shipwrecks and the sites.

  (b) PARKS AND PROTECTED AREAS. -In managing the resources subject to the
provisions of this Act, States are encouraged to create underwater parks or
areas to provide additional protection for such resources.  Funds available to
States from grants from the Historic Preservation fund shall be available, in
accordance with the provisions of title I of the National Historic
Preservation Act, for the study, interpretation, protection, and preservation
of historic shipwrecks and properties.


  (a) In order to encourage the development of underwater parks and the
administrative cooperation necessary for the comprehensive management of
underwater resources related to historic shipwrecks, the Secretary of the
Interior, acting through the Director of the National Park Service, shall
within nine months after the date of enactment of this Act prepare and publish
guidelines in the Federal Register which shall seek to:

      (1) maximize the enhancement of cultural resources;

      (2) foster a partnership among sport divers, fishermen, archeologists,
  salvors, and other interests to manage shipwreck resources of the States
  and the United States;

      (3) facilitate access and utilization by recreational interests;

      (4) recognize the interests of individuals and groups engaged in
  shipwreck discovery and salvage.

  (b) Such guidelines shall be developed after consultation with appropriate
public and private sector interests (including the Secretary of Commerce, the
Advisory council on Historic Preservation, sport divers, State Historic
Preservation Officers, professional dive operators, salvors, archeologists,
historic preservationists, and fishermen).

  (c) Such guidelines shall be available to assist States and the appropriate
Federal agencies in developing legislation and regulations to carry out their
responsibilities under this Act.


  (a) UNITED STATES TITLE. -The United States asserts title to any abandoned
shipwreck that is-

      (1) embedded in submerged lands of a State;

      (2) embedded in coralline formations protected by a State on submerged
  lands or a State; or

      (3) on submerged lands of a State and is included in or determined to
  be eligible for inclusion in the National Register.

  (b) The public shall be given adequate notice of the location of any
shipwreck to which title is asserted under this section.  The Secretary of the
Interior, after consultation with the appropriate State Historic Preservation
Officer, shall make a written determination that an abandoned shipwreck meets
the criteria for eligibility for inclusion in the National Register of
Historic Places under clause (a)(3).

  (c) TRANSFER OF TITLE TO STATES. -The title of the United States to any
abandoned shipwreck asserted under subsection (a) of this section is
transferred to the State in or on whose submerged lands the shipwreck is

  (d) EXCEPTION. -Any abandoned shipwreck in or on public lands of the United
States is the property of the United States Government.  Any abandoned
shipwreck in or on any Indian lands is the property of the Indian tribe owning
such lands.

  (e) RESERVATION OF RIGHTS. -This section does not affect any right reserved
by the United States or by any State (including any right reserved with
respect to Indian lands) under-

      (1) section 3, 5, or 6 of the Submerged Lands Act (43 U.S.C. 1311,
  1313, and 1314); or

      (2) section 19 or 20 of the Act of March 3, 1899 (33 U.S.C. 414 and


  (a) LAW OF SALVAGE AND THE LAW OF FINDS. -The law of salvage and the law of
finds shall not apply to abandoned shipwrecks to which section 6 of this Act

  (b) LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES. -This Act shall not change the laws of the
United States relating to shipwrecks, other than those to which this Act

  (c) EFFECTIVE DATE. -This Act shall not affect any legal proceeding brought
prior to the date of enactment of this Act.


1 The Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 (43 U.S.C. 2101 et seq.), as set forth herein,
consists of Public Law 100-298 (April 28, 1988).

2 Final Guidelines for the Abandoned Shipwreck Act issued by the Department of the Interior,
December 4, 1990, in the Federal Register, Vol. 55, No. 233, pp. 50116-50145.

Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987







Cultural Studies