Trafficking in World War II Underwater Cultural Heritage

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The 'Ghost Fleet' of Chuuk (known formerly as Truk) Lagoon consists of over 50 Japanese ships sunk during a two day intensive Allied bombardment of Chuuk in February 1944. The Lagoon, in its entirety, represents a unique underwater cultural landscape, which captures a distinct moment in time when two opposing military forces clashed on Micronesian territory. The aftermath of 'Operation Hailstorm' (the Allied name given to the military air strike) has produced a wealth of underwater cultural material that attracts divers and war tourists to Micronesia throughout the year. The sunken Japanese vessels and aircraft are used to illustrate jurisdictional, law enforcement and ethical problems in the protection of sunken World War II wrecks located in the territorial waters of a Pacific coastal State.This paper examines the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (CPUCH) and how this international legal instrument has contributed to the international legal framework for the protection of cultural property. The focus of this paper is on the need to protect sunken World War II wrecks located in the Pacific Ocean, especially military wrecks residing in the territorial waters of developing coastal States. As will be discussed, the 2001 CPUCH fails to include World War II sunken wrecks in its definition of underwater cultural heritage (UCH). The 2001 CPUCH also makes significant changes to Admiralty Law while its regulatory regime focuses on international maritime waters. Changes in International Law can create unintended consequences and unforeseen harm at domestic and regional levels. A common concern for law enforcement personnel and archaeologists is whether the 2001 CPUCH will promote a higher demand for underwater relics of the Second World War. Also, domestic and regional geopolitical issues, such as colonialism and neo-colonialism, can hamper the effectiveness of international legal instruments. As the 2001 CPUCH only came into force in January 2009, expected consequences and harms have yet to be fully realised, but it is envisioned that there will be a marked increase in trafficking in World War II relics, especially within the Pacific region, given its abundance of sunken military wrecks.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationFSCR 2013
Place of PublicationSingapore
PublisherGlobal Science and Technology Forum
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 2013
EventAnnual International Conference Forensic Sciences and Criminalistic Research (FSCR) - Singapore, Singapore
Duration: 09 Dec 201310 Dec 2013


ConferenceAnnual International Conference Forensic Sciences and Criminalistic Research (FSCR)


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