The protection of the underwater cultural heritage, as an integral part of the cultural heritage of humanity, is exercised in accordance with the same general principles envisaged for the archaeological heritage in the subsoil. These principles are reaffirmed and expanded in a fundamental international legal instrument, the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, adopted in Paris on 2 November 2001 by the General Conference of the Member States of UNESCO in order to empower the parties to better protect underwater heritage, which entered into force on 2 January 2009. The Convention was ratified and enforced by the Italian Parliament with Law 157/2009;
however the general provisions on the subject were already present in the Code of Cultural Heritage and Landscape (Legislative Decree 42/2004), art. 94, as later amended with Legislative Decree 62/2008.
In the context of the international regulatory framework, the Convention supplements and expands the protection provisions regarding the underwater cultural heritage already present in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, also providing for the possibility of drafting complementary regional agreements that strengthen existing prevention and protection measures. A common standard is also established both for the protection of the heritage, providing measures against the possibility of it being looted or destroyed, and for its knowledge and enhancement, also encouraging research activities. Among the most important indications, in situ conservation is considered a priority – where possible – compared to other types of intervention (including recovery).
The text of the treaty consists of a Preamble, 35 articles and an Annex.
The Annex, in particular, contains 36 Rules, consisting of very detailed practical provisions concerning the activities aimed at protecting the heritage (e.g. the drafting of a research project, the competence and qualification of professionals in the sector, the methodologies of site conservation and management, etc.). As part of these activities, some direct implications are constituted by the forms of collaboration activated by MiBACT with the competent Ministries in the context of the application of the provisions of Legislative Decree 201/2016, in implementation of Directive 2014/89/EU which establishes a framework for marine spatial planning through the drafting of specific management plans for each sector (art.5, c.1 m).
At the organisational level, each country signatory to the Convention has the right to participate and be represented at the Conference of States Parties, which is held every two years. The technical and scientific Council, made up of 12 members (underwater archaeologists) elected from among the delegates of the States Parties, is the real “operative arm” of the Convention, as well as consultant to the Conference.