Protection of Military Remains Act 1986

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The Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 (1986 c. 35) is an Act of Parliament in the United Kingdom which provides protection for the wreckage of military aircraft and designated military wrecks. The Act provides for two types of protection: protected places and controlled sites. The primary reason for designation as a protected place is to protect as a war grave the last resting place of UK servicemen (or other nationals).

By 2006, there were fourteen controlled sites, and six designated protected places (five UK wrecks in international waters and one German U-boat in UK waters) [1]. On 31 May 2006, the 90th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland, it was announced that the remains of the fourteen UK ships lost in that battle were being designated as protected places [2][3].

Protected places

The wreckages of military aircraft are automatically protected places irrespective of whether there was loss of life or whether the wrecking occurred during peacetime or in a combat. Wrecks are designated by name and can be designated as protected places even if the location of the site is not known. Thus, the wreckage of a UK military aircraft is automatically a protected place even if the physical remains have not been previously discovered or identified. Shipwrecks need to be specifically designated, and designation as a protected place applies only to vessels that sank after 14 August 1914. The Act makes it an offence to interfere with a protected place. Divers may visit the site but the rule is look, don't touch and don't penetrate. It is an offence to disturb the site and an offence to remove anything from the site. The law concerning protected places applies anywhere in the world, but in practice, outside the UK, the sanctions can only be enforced against UK citizens, UK flagged ships, or vessels landing in the UK, unless backed by local legislation.

Controlled sites

Controlled sites must be specifically designated by location, where the site contains the remains of a vessel sank within the last two hundred years. The Act makes it illegal to conduct any operations (including any diving) within the controlled site that might disturb the remains unless licensed to do so by the Ministry of Defence. As the Ministry of Defence has its own diving teams that are capable of carrying out any diving operations considered strictly necessary, it is highly unlikely that a request for such a license would be granted. Controlled sites are marked on admiralty charts and their physical location is marked by means of a buoy (sea mark).

The Storaa judgement

The SS Storaa was a merchant vessel sunk by a German torpedo on 3 November 1943 while she was part of a military convoy. Those who died included Royal Navy personnel, as well as merchant seamen[4].

Rosemary Fogg and Valerie Ledgard, the daughters of one of the men who died, Petty Officer James Varndell RN launched a judicial appeal into the Ministry of Defence's decision to refuse to designate the wreck[5]. The High Court judge, Mr Justice Newmann decided in their favour of the claimants on 13 December 2005[4]. The Ministry of Defence appealed, but on 5 October 2006, the Appeal Court upheld the High Court decision. The court ruled that the act could apply to merchant vessels and that the Secretary of State for Defence was therefore required to reconsider whether or not the Storaa should be designated under the act. Note that this does not guarantee that the wreck will be designated, only that it is eligible for consideration.


  1. Protected Wrecks in the UK. Maritime and Coastguard Agency website. Retrieved on 2006 October 6.
  2. New Protection Announced For Jutland Wrecks. Defence News website. Retrieved on 2006 October 6.
  3. Jutland Commemorated 90 years on. BBC News website. Retrieved on 2006 October 6.
  4. THE QUEEN ON THE APPLICATION OF (1) ROSEMARY FOGG (2) VALERIE LEDGARD Claimants and THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR DEFENCE, Case No: CO/132/2005 Neutral Citation Number: 2005 EWHC 2888 (Admin). Richard Retrieved on 2006 October 12. In the transcript, the Judge, Mr Justice Newman, identifies the uncontested facts of the history of the SS Storaa.
  5. Legal Fight to Protect Grave of Wartime Seamen. Guardian Unlimited, 15 November 2003. Retrieved on 2006 October 12.


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