Under the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976, it is illegal to disturb or remove items from historic shipwrecks without a permit. However, the law does provide ways in which dealers and collectors can legally purchase or sell coins and other relics or artefacts.
SS Marloo anchor being returned to the site after its illegal removal
Possessing historic shipwreck relics
The only historic shipwreck relics legally in circulation are those which have a registration certificate. The Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976 does not prevent private possession of certified shipwreck relics, nor the sale or disposal of these relics, but it does regulate their transfer.
A dealer or any other person who buys, or in any other way comes into possession of a shipwreck relic, such as a coin, must notify the Minister within 30 days, to the Minister's nominated Delegate in each State or Territory.
Individuals who fail to do this risk a $2,000 fine. Fines for companies or other corporate bodies can be up to $10,000. You may also be required to provide information about the location of historic shipwreck relics which you have possessed in the past.
Ownership & authenticity
If you buy shipwreck coins and other relics you should be aware that although you may obtain a relic legally, the relic does not actually belong to you, even though you have it in your possession. For example, ownership of coins from the Dutch shipwrecks off the coast of Western Australia is determined by agreement between the Australian and Netherlands Governments.
You should also be aware that although a shipwreck relic may be registered, this does not guarantee its authenticity.
Permits are required before selling or otherwise disposing of a shipwreck relic. Harsher fines apply for failing to obtain a permit for selling shipwreck relics than for failing to notify authorities that you have bought or acquired relics. The penalty for sale or disposal without a permit is a $10,000 fine for an individual, or five years imprisonment or both. A company or body corporate risks a fine of up to $50,000. A dealer or any other person who buys, or in any other way comes into possession of a shipwreck coin or relic must also notify the Delegate within 30 days (s.9 (1A)). This can be done by completing a Notification of custody of shipwrecks or relics form.
- Permit for sale or exporting shipwreck relic (PDF 70 KB) | (Word - 295 KB)
- Notification custody of shipwrecks of relics (PDF 70 KB) | (Word - 292 KB)
Exporting shipwreck relics
Removal of shipwreck relics such as coins from Australia without a Historic Shipwreck permit for sale or transfer of a shipwreck relic is prohibited by the Historic Shipwrecks Act 1976. A permit under the Protection of Movable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 may also be required.
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- Australian National Maritime Museum
- Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology
- Devonport Maritime Museum
- Maritime Archaeology Association of Victoria
- Maritime Archaeological Association of Queensland
- Maritime Archaeological Association of WA
- Norfolk Island Museum
- Southern Ocean Exploration
- The Sydney Project
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