Navy Wants Changes to Sunken Warship Rules

     WASHINGTON (CN) -The Department of the Navy has proposed changes to guidelines that would reportedly ease permitting of archaeological investigations and other activities on and around historical military craft both above and under water, but add more penalties to offenders.
     Sunken military craft are not only historically important to the nation, but also often are war graves and memorials to the men and women who served aboard them, the Navy says. Access to these sites requires Navy oversight to ensure public safety, site preservation, and the sanctity of war and other maritime graves.
     The current rule is based on provisions of the National Historic Preservation Act, which lays out the responsibility for each government agency to preserve and manage the historic properties under their jurisdiction.
     In the proposed guidelines, the Navy has created a new category - terrestrial military craft - historical ships, equipment and structures that are on land. The proposal would replace the current regulations with a single permitting process for those wanting to perform historical or archaeological research. The Naval History & Heritage Command would continue to serve as the permitting authority and a permit would only be granted if the Navy has no objection.
     Applicants would still have to demonstrate careful planning, professional credentials and a long-term view of the effects of the proposed activities on the craft and any items that were found, but the standards for granting a special use permit would be relaxed, according to a Navy analysis.
     The proposed changes also include teeth. A violation of the SMCA or of the permitting program may be punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 for each violation, with each day of a violation counting as a separate incident. Violators may also be liable for damages and may suffer loss of their vessel and other equipment associated with the violation.
     "With stricter enforcement provisions acting as a deterrent and a management policy based on the principle of in situ preservation, the proposed rule makes the protection of war-related and other maritime graves, the preservation of historical resources, the proper handling of safety and environmental hazards, and the safeguarding national security interests more effective, efficient, and affordable. At the same time, the proposed rule enables the public to have controlled intrusive access to sites otherwise prohibited from disturbance, bringing to light new knowledge about the Nation's maritime heritage, and honoring the service of those sailors lost at sea," according to the Navy's action.
     Written comments are due by March 7.