In the spring of 2014, discussion took place among members of the diving community regarding a January 6, 2014 Federal Register notice (beginning on page 620; 32 CFR Part 767; RIN 0703-AA90) pertaining to the ability of divers to access "sunken military vessels." At that time, and on behalf of the industry, DEMA reached out to the Department of Navy (DoN) to determine the extent to which the provisions of this Federal Register would impact routine recreational scuba diving activities in or about sunken vessels/wrecks. A copy of the request for clarification can be accessed here. In response to DEMA's request for clarification, DEMA received a favorable response from the DoN.
In particular, and on behalf of Dr. Robert Neyland, Head of the Naval History and Heritage Command, DEMA received a letter from Dr. J.B. Thomas, assuring DEMA and its Members that recreational divers diving in or near sunken military vessels were not the focus of the regulations. The entirety of the Navy's response can be accessed here. To summarize, the Navy advised DEMA:
Diving on former Navy and ex-military vessels such as the Oriskany, Vandenberg, Radford, Spiegel Grove, etc., purposefully sunk to establish artificial reefs, is not an activity covered by the regulations because title to these vessels was expressly divested. There are regulations that might apply from NOAA FKNMA, and at some time in the future the DoN and NOAA-FKNMA will be entering into a Memorandum of Understanding on their respective roles. We will continue to monitor this process as it develops.
Diving near and around sunken military craft is not prohibited. A permit would be required only if the diver intended to disturb, remove, or injure a sunken military craft or terrestrial military craft. Only intentional or negligent actions that disturb the craft would be considered as violations of the Act. We expect that at some time in the future additional regulations or clarifications will be published to effectuate the DoN position on this issue.
Recent rumors that sport divers were being banned from diving on military shipwrecks or wrecks that had any affiliation with the military are not accurate. However, removing artifacts from military shipwrecks is prohibited without a permit. DEMA will continue its interaction with the DoN, the NOAA-FKNMA, and their partners and monitor this process of developing regulations. To date the clarifications provided have confirmed that reasonable and responsible diving activities near to and around sunken military craft can continue.