Effective 1st February 2010, the Ministry of Defence in the UK has designated 9 new wrecks (5 in British territorial waters, and 4 in international waters) as Protected Places under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986, which protects the wreckage of military aircraft and designated vessels from disturbance.
Military aircraft wrecks are automatically protected by the Act, but shipwrecks have to be specifically designated in order for the protection to apply – the primary reason for designation being to protect the last resting place of UK servicemen or other nationals. Although the Act was passed in 1986, the first designations did not come into force until 2002, when 11 Protected Places and 5 Controlled Sites were ordered. Further tranches of designations followed in 2006, which included the Jutland wrecks, and 2008, when the first merchant vessels were designated. With these additional designations, there are now 55 vessels classed as Protected Places and 12 as Controlled Sites.
Diving on a vessel designated as a Protected Place under the Act is permitted on a “look but don’t touch basis”, and it is an offence to disturb or remove anything from the site. All diving on a Controlled Site is prohibited without a special license from the Ministry of Defense.
A full list of all currently designated wrecks can be found at http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2009/pdf/uksi_20093380_en.pdf.