So says the National Museum of the Royal Navy which, with the Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust (MAST), convened the meeting at Admiralty House in London in mid-November, and has now reported on the proceedings.

In attendance were representatives of Government departments and law-enforcement officers, supported by environment and cultural advisers.

The National Museum is the principal adviser to the RN on naval heritage, while the charity MAST is charged with educating the public on maritime heritage, especially archaeology.

Both organisations said they wanted to increase awareness of the dangers of unauthorised intrusion and illegal salvage of naval wrecks.

MAST records indicate that 4793 RN ships were lost between 1512 and 1982, but there is particular concerned about the fragile iron and steel shipwrecks of the 19th and 20th centuries.

These can contain unstable explosive material, toxic minerals and fuel oils that are hazardous to divers and potentially damaging to the environment if tampered with.

The organisers said that they now expected use of new technologies such as remote surveillance and practices employed elsewhere at sea, such as in the regulation of fishing, to be used to improve management of UK naval remains.

They also reported that the meeting had “considered ways of mitigating the complexities of the legal frameworks and breadth of interested parties that has, in the past, created ambiguities”.

Future cross-Government work would, they said, be more collaborative and emphasise the criminality particularly of dangerous and unauthorised salvage.

“We are looking forward to discussion with international colleagues on how we could increase collaboration, so that together we might manage better the potential hazards and pursue the criminal, but also seek the commemoration of heroic naval actions in a manner that befits today’s expectations," commented MAST Trustee Vice-Admiral Sir Anthony Dymock.

The group is set to reconvene in April to review progress.

It was made clear that current arrangements for provision of licences to dive naval wrecks would not be affected by the new work – nor would consideration of licensing to dive further sites be ruled out.

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