Law of Wreck, The

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Law of the sea and wreck

5.1 Early law of the sea

The international law of the sea developed over hundreds of years, from ancient Phoenician and Roman rules, through the age of exploration and expanding maritime trade characterised by the rise of the Grotian theory of freedom of the high seas, to its eventual codification in four relatively short international conventions adopted in 1958: the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone; the Convention on the Continental Shelf; the Convention on the High Seas; and the Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas. At the heart of this law of the sea regime was the balancing of right and duties as between coastal States and flag States. Wrecks were not addressed in these conventions and were left to the private realm of admiralty law for two reasons. First, wrecks seldom posed any threat to a coastal State, and indeed were often more of a bonanza to the local community than the cause of any damage. Secondly, once a ship had sunk, the technology did not exist to access or salvage it, save where it sunk in relatively shallow and accessible waters that was subject to the jurisdiction of the coastal State.

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