Watch CBS News

Don't mess with shipwrecks in U.S. waters, government warns

The U.S. Department of Transportation is warning people from interacting with certain shipwrecks. 

The notice, issued Monday in the most recent edition of the Federal Register, warns that U.S. custody and control extends to any wreck of a vessel that was owned or under charter of the Maritime Administration at the time of its sinking. Ownership titles are indefinite in most cases, and applies to all wrecks no matter when or where they sank. 

These wrecks are "highly threatened by illegal salvage," the notice said

The administration will allow for activities at a shipwreck, but permission in writing must be obtained, and the administration "prefers non-intrusive, in situ research," though it recognizes that "in certain situations disturbance or artifact recovery may be justified or become necessary." 

Ironton Shipwreck
In this image taken from video provided by the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the bow of the Ironton is seen in Lake Huron off Michigan's east coast in a June 2021 photo.  / AP

That control also covers shipwreck cargo, since it is covered by the administration's insurance programs and paid for by the same. War graves associated with Maritime Administration-protected wrecks are also protected, the notice said. 

"No disturbance or recovery from these shipwrecks or their cargoes may legally take place without the express permission of MARAD," the agency said. "Those engaging in unauthorized activities involving shipwrecks and cargoes ... are advised that no disturbance or recovery from said shipwrecks and their cargoes whether located in the waters of the United States, a foreign nation, or international waters." 

There are an estimated  20,000 shipwrecks in U.S. waters, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.