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Department of the Navy Issues Final Rules on Recreational Diver Access to Sunken Military Vessels

Monday, September 14, 2015   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rachelle Reimers
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The Department of the Navy (DoN) has issued its final rules on the disposition of sunken military craft including an updated procedure required for research and other activities on these sunken vessels.  Importantly, according to a letter DEMA has received from the DoN, “…activities such as fishing, snorkeling and diving which are not intended to disturb, remove or injure any portion of a sunken military craft are still allowed without the need for a permit.” The revised regulations permitting investigations of sunken military craft under the jurisdiction of the DoN were published in the Federal Register Monday, August 31, 2015. The new regulations won’t officially go into effect until March 1, 2016.

DEMA has been in communication with the DoN for well over a year on this issue.  In April of 2014, DEMA, on behalf of the industry, reached out to the DoN to determine the extent to which rules proposed in January of 2014 (page 620; 32 CFR Part 767; RIN 0703-AA90) would impact routine recreational scuba diving activities in or about sunken vessels/wrecks.  In his response, Dr. J.B, Thomas, Assistant Director for Collection Management with the DoN indicated that, “the Department of the Navy, through its regulations, does not intend to restrict access to those DoN craft purposely sunk to establish artificial reefs or to other sunken former Navy vessels of which United States' title has been expressly divested. The final rule will explicitly clarify this matter.”

With the publication of the new rules in the Federal Register of Monday, August 31, 2015 , DEMA is pleased that the final rules applying to recreational diving do not prohibit diving on military sites or vessels when there is no intent to disturb these sites.

 “The final rules make it clear that these regulations are designed to preserve these sites, while allowing for divers to visit them,” said Tom Ingram, DEMA’s Executive Director.  “By preserving these wrecks in situ, all divers will have the opportunity to visit and enjoy them.”

Of particular interest to the recreational diving industry is the clear statement within the rules which reads:

“Non-intrusive activities including diving on or remotely documenting sites do not require a permit or authorization from the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), though this rule does not preclude the obligation to obtain permits or authorizations otherwise required by law.  The regulations stipulate an application process for disturbance, removal or injury of sunken military craft under the jurisdiction of the DoN.”

Further, the new rules indicate that, “The rule also incorporates provisions for a special use permit to be issued in case of certain activities directed at sunken military craft that would result in a wreck site’s disturbance, removal or injury, but otherwise would be minimally intrusive.  The standards that must be met for special use permits are more easily attainable as are the reporting requirements, though data collected shall be shared with the NHHC.”

DEMA encourages all members of the diving industry to familiarize themselves with the new rules in their entirety and share the information with their customers and diving communities. 

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