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Belgium to protect shipwrecks as cultural heritage

Belgium will start protecting more shipwrecks in the Belgian part of the North Sea. Currently, only 11 out of 280 wrecks have a cultural heritage status, which leaves the rest more vulnerable to damage.

There are about 280 shipwrecks in the Belgian part of the North Sea. About two thirds of these date from both World Wars. Last year, 55 wrecks older than a century have been thoroughly examined. Through a new law, deputy Prime Minister Vincent van Quickenborne wants to protect these wrecks.

What does this mean?

Specifically, through this new law everything under water that’s over a 100 years old will automatically be classified as cultural heritage.

Once shipwrecks get a cultural heritage status, they will be marked on official maritime maps. Activities that can damage the wrecks can no longer be done around wreck locations. This means that boats can’t drop their anchors or fish with large nets, for example. Giving the wrecks a cultural heritage status also protects them from looting.

Besides their importance for maritime history, shipwrecks also serve an ecological function. Many wrecks attract marine animals and become a sort of reefs.

Sharing research

Promoting Belgium’s maritime archaeology is also important to Van Quickenborne. The minister wants to make the new research publicly available through an exhibition and wider campaign. A database of the wrecks is also available, although it’s currently only in Dutch.

Source: The Brussels Times, Archeologie Online (Dutch)

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