Salvors and states have been locked in a battle over the salvage of historic shipwrecks. States are interested in protecting the archaeological significance of historic shipwrecks. Salvors, in contrast, are interested in finding treasure and bringing it to the surface by the most cost effective method possible. States wish to have claims to wrecks found in their waters litigated in state court. Salvors wish to be heard in the more liberal federal admiralty courts. In order to solve this problem, Congress adopted the Abandoned Shipwreck Act which vested title to abandoned wrecks in the states. However, this Act may be unconstitutional, and salvors are finding new and interesting ways to circumvent its provisions.
If California wishes to protect the historic wrecks within its waters it should adopt the English approach to protecting wrecks. Rather than depending on federal legislation, California should assert its own claim of title and regulatory scheme as the basis of its interest in a wreck which cannot be litigated in federal court.
Charting the Future of Historic Shipwreck Legislation in California: Application of the English Model in the Salvage of the Brother Jonathan,
17 Hastings Int'l & Comp. L. Rev. 793
Available at: https://repository.uchastings.edu/hastings_international_comparative_law_review/vol17/iss4/8