“It is well known that the mere introduction of a new law or amendment to existing laws cannot help in the preservation of cultural heritage. The success of any law for protection of cultural heritage depends on the agency responsible for preservation, supervision and control of such activities. It is also an established fact that merely framing legislation cannot preserve cultural heritage until there is awareness among those to whom it belongs, that is, the public.” Alok Tripathi
Over 400 people took part in drafting the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, from archaeologists to lawyers, and from Governmental representatives to non-Governmental agency experts; several powerful maritime nations, including Russia and the U.S., remain opposed to it, particularly in with reference to its compatibility with the 1982 United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea. Nonetheless, its critical “Rules concerning Activities Directed at Underwater Cultural Heritage”, have set a standard to which many countries ascribe, despite their stance on the Convention itself.
In the immediate wake of the Convention in 2003, the multi-national conference Finishing the Interrupted Voyage brought together international and regional experts and cultural heritage champions, archaeologists, lawyers, government advisers and professors who all shared a common concern about shipwrecks and underwater sites in the Asian and Pacific regions. The published conference papers serve as a microcosm for issues, successes, candid realisations of limitations combined with a determination to forge ahead, and above all a willingness to collaborate, which resonate with other regions facing difficulties similar to those experienced in this region so rich in maritime history and therefore in historical wrecks.
Many of the papers’ contents transcend the immediate locale: Carsten Lund explores ‘The Making of the UNESCO Convention 2001’, Keun-Gwan Lee examines the ‘Compatibility of the UNESCO Convention 2001 with UNCLOS 1982’, and Guido Carducci analyses ‘The UNESCO 2001 Convention: A Crucial Compromise on Salvage Law and the Law of Finds’. The International Legal Framework is explored by Patrick O’Keefe; Etienne Clément looks at the Convention’s provisions in terms of illegal traffic of cultural objects; Bill Jeffery focuses on the effect of non-archaeological activities, Henrik C. Nimb discusses the role of education and training, while Jeremy Green looks at the role of information and training in the regional context. The critically-important Annex of Rules is examined by Robert Grenier and Hans van Tilburg. Lyndel Prott puts forward the case urgently for non-ratifying countries to come on board, and Guido Carducci explains the mechanisms for so doing.
As ever in a field challenging on many fronts, the hard lessons of experience can be held up for others to learn from. The series of papers outlining the successes and the difficulties confronting advocates of archaeological excavation, preservation, collaboration and education offer candid insights and models: experiences in Sri Lanka (joint presentation by Somasiri Devendra, Mohan Aberyratne and Sama De Silva), Hong Kong (Antiquities and Monuments Office), Japan (Shinsuke Araki), Viet Nam (Nguyen Dinh Chien), Vanuatu (Richard Shing), Malaysia (Ad Bin Haji Taha), India (Alok Tripathi), Thailand (Erbrem Vatcharangkul), French Polynesia (Robert Veccella) and China (Zhang Wei) provide rich resources from which other regions can benefit.
Finishing the Voyage ends with an embarkation for future regional co-operation and an agenda for the implementation of the Convention within in the entire Asia-Pacific Region.