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The Recovery of Sunken Warbirds

Legal Aspects of Maritime Aviation Archaeology


Ulf Bischof

Aviation Archaeology is a modern discipline that has perhaps not yet been fully acknowledged by scholars who typically focus predominantly on classical archaeology. Conducting underwater research on aircraft or even lifting one to the surface, especially warbirds crashed in the sea, raises difficult legal questions which are best considered early in the process of planning a complex and costly recovery mission. Where has the aircraft been located and what law applies to its location? Is it a military aircraft, such as one from World War II, and cultural property in the legal sense? Do we have to look to national laws or international conventions? And, how are potential conflicts between national laws or between national laws and international conventions resolved? Most nations claim they retain title to their underwater military craft, but have sovereign States relinquished title especially to aircraft belonging to their air forces, such as, through neglect? And, last but not least, the sensitive question arises concerning the extent to which Aviation Archaeology – maybe even more so than classical archaeology – needs to pay tribute to the fact that crashed aircraft may still contain human remains? The paper shall give an introductory overview to a broader audience and open up to debate on legal and ethical aspects of Maritime Aviation Archeology.

Ulf Bischof 1

1 Dr. Ulf Bischof ist Rechtsanwalt in Berlin. Der Beitrag basiert auf einem Vortrag auf der „International Conference on Aviation Archeaology and Heritage“ der Universität von Malta im November 2017.


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