Maritime Heritage Legislation

The Australian National Shipwreck Database (hosted by the Australian Government) includes details of all known shipwrecks in Australian waters. The Western Australian Museum’s Wreck Finder database contains information and details on Western Australian shipwrecks recorded by the Western Australian Museum, including records for over 1650 Western Australian shipwrecks, including the Batavia, SS Xantho and Zuytdorp.

The following summaries of relevant legislation pertaining to maritime archaeological sites and objects in Western Australia are based on summaries from the websites of the Western Australian Museum (WAM) and the Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology (AIMA).  

The Maritime Archaeology Act 1973

The Western Australian Museum is responsible for the administration of the State Maritime Archaeology Act 1973, which protects pre-1900 maritime archaeological sites on State lands and in State waters, including protected bays, harbours, estuaries, rivers and creeks. Section 4 of the Maritime Archaeology Act 1973 defines what constitutes a maritime archaeological site which may be located below the low water mark, between the tide marks or on land. Maritime archaeological site types include shipwrecks and relics associated with historic ships, early maritime infrastructure and shipwreck survivor camps. This Act defines an ‘historic ship’ as any ship that before the year 1900 was lost, wrecked, abandoned or stranded on or off the coast of Western Australia. The term ‘relic’ pertains to anything of historic interest that appears to have formed part of, or to have been carried by, derived from or been associated with an historic ship.  

The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976

Australia's historic shipwrecks and their associated relics are protected by the Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. This Act protects all shipwrecks older than 75 years in Australian Commonwealth waters, extending from the low tide mark to the edge of the Continental Shelf. Wrecks less than 75 years old such as World War II wrecks can be especially declared as historic shipwrecks by the Federal Minister for the Environment. The Commonwealth Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 protects all relics on land directly associated with an historic shipwreck, such as survivor camps and relics held in private collections. The WAM is the delegated authority for management of Commonwealth historic shipwrecks and relics in Western Australia.

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