The Titanic Now Protected Under International Law

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic on 14 April 1912, which is significant not simply because the blockbuster drama based on that night has been re-released in 3D, but because the wreckage has now become eligible for protection under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, which entered into force in 2009.  No single state could claim the site because the Titanic sunk in international waters, 4,000 meters off the coast of Newfoundland; States only have jurisdiction over wrecks lying in their own waters and flying their flag.  The Convention seeks to safeguard wrecks, sites, decorated caves and other cultural relics underwater.  States parties can seize any illicitly recovered artifacts.  Forty one States have ratified the Convention.

UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, stated: “The sinking of the Titanic is anchored in the memory of humanity and I am pleased that this site can now be protected in the UNESCO convention.”  She called upon divers not to dump equipment or commemorative plaques on the Titanic site.


  1. On its face, this Convention seems like it may be the best measure to take to ensure the preservation of the Titanic and all other underwater relics and wrecks. The Convention is truly based on the cooperation of its participating states. It is further supported by the overall international enthusiasm to protect vulnerable history, which is already eroding away in the water’s depths. UNESCO’s goal is to invite any states, having a declared interest in the wreck, to participate in consultations as to what the best methods are to protecting history. Of course, we can thank James Cameron for his accentuating touch on this particular piece of international history. Yet, on an international scale, this Convention will be extremely beneficial in drawing boundaries and establishing protocols when such artifacts are discovered and deserving of further preservation and research.

  2. “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, on April 15, 2012, Titanic was protected under this Convention. The Convention aims to preserve the Titanic wreck and seeks State cooperation. Now, if a State destroys even a small part of the Titanic wreck, it will face international consequences. “The Convention will prohibit the pillaging, sale and dispersion of the wreck and its artifacts.” After arguing this year at the Jessup International Moot Court Competition, I am familiar with the consequences a State can face when it destroys UNESCO protected items. Specifically, this Convention has already stated that “State Parties to the 2001 Convention will accordingly sanction violations of protection measures and seize illicitly recovered artifacts.”

  3. I think that international law is definitely the most logical, practical, and appropriate means for safeguarding the wreckage of the Titanic. To begin with, as the article says, it is obviously appropriate as the required one hundred years has now passed since the Titanic sank and, while the wreckage of the Titanic is located about four thousand meters off the coast of Newfoundland, it does not fall under their jurisdiction because the Titanic was not flying a Newfoundland flag. In addition to this, I think it is also important that international law take precedent here because the best way to ensure such a landmark remains safe is to put forth an international effort to make it so. Granted, the efforts of one state might suffice, but making it into a global effort will likely be more effective. Also, it seems more appropriate that the International Community take responsibility for this considering the wide range of nationalities that were present on the Titanic and that were lost during its sinking.

  4. I’m curious how the UNESCO label applies in light of the fact that the salvor in possession rights belong to Premier Exhibitions. Premier has led 8 missions to the ship and have recovered over 5,500 items from the doomed liner since 1994. While Premier does not have title to the wreck itself, it does own exclusive rights to recover items.

  5. It looks like Premier has rights to any artifacts seized prior to the protection of the convention, unless their acquisition is somehow deemed illicit. The U.S. and Canada could argue that because they are not parties to the convention, the prohibition does not apply. But the UN is already arguing that the protections are also reflected in the international agreement on Titanic salvage that was signed by them as well as France and Britain, so they seem intent on binding them to the convention.

    The following article addresses these issues in greater detail:

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