TALLINN – The government on Thursday approved Estonia's joining of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, which, among other things, provides a legal framework for controlling the activity of treasure hunters in international waters.
"Estonia is a maritime country and both in our waters and in international waters near us there is a lot of underwater heritage that needs protection. Diving to the wrecks of sunken ships and underwater structures is becoming more and more popular and unfortunately, the violation of wrecks of cultural value or the retrieval of things from there for the purpose of selling them is also increasing. Joining the convention will provide a stronger basis for the protection of underwater cultural heritage, improve international cooperation and increase Estonia's reputation as a maritime country," Minister of Culture Tonis Lukas said.
Underwater cultural heritage includes all traces of human existence which are of cultural, historical or archaeological character and which have been partially or completely submerged, temporarily or permanently, for at least 100 years.
The Baltic Sea is very rich in underwater cultural heritage and is said to contain up to 20,000 shipwrecks. The Baltic Sea offers very good conditions for the preservation of underwater cultural heritage and there are wrecks of sailboats that are hundreds of years old with masts still standing. Wooden wrecks with this degree of preservation are unique in the world. At the same time, they are important in understanding the history of the countries bordering the Baltic Sea and make it possible to study the rich maritime history as well as trade, technical development and life here.
The UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage was adopted on Nov. 2, 2001 in Paris. As of Oct. 5, 2020, the convention has been ratified or approved by 65 countries. The convention will be implemented by the National Heritage Board.