The Ambassador of Belgium to UNESCO, H. E. Mrs Francine Chainaye, has submitted the instrument of ratification of the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage to the UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova. This ratification is an important step in the development of the Convention as it illustrates the growing international support for this instrument and for the protection of the submerged heritage.
Belgium’s first steps into underwater archaeology were taken in 1992, in the medieval (submerged) town of Walraversijde. The Archeological Museum in Raversijde, founded in the wake of this excavation, is still the country’s headquarters for maritime archaeology. Since then, underwater archaeological research in Belgium has made tremendous advancements. A national maritime database on shipwrecks and underwater archeological sites in the North Sea and Schelde-River has been set up, while Belgian historians and underwater archaeologists have been involved in numerous international, high-profile projects, such as Planarch and MACHU.
To show its continuing commitment to the protection of underwater cultural heritage and the 2001 Convention, the Flemish Government, in cooperation with UNESCO, will organize a Scientific and Commemorative Event for the Naval Battles of World War I that will take place in Bruges, in June 2014, one hundred years after the outbreak of World War I. The event will bring together leading experts from all over the world and will commemorate the losses of World War I and the underwater heritage resulting from its battles, thereby conveying a strong message of peace, international cooperation and reconciliation.
The 2001 Convention, the most important international treaty on submerged heritage, entered into force on 2 January 2009. This landmark legal instrument is the international community’s response to the destruction of submerged archaeological sites by commercial treasure-hunters and certain industrial activities and was designed to strengthen legal protection, cooperation, awareness-raising and capacity-building. The ever growing number of States Parties to the Convention reflects the increasing recognition of the need to ensure the same protection to underwater cultural heritage as that already accorded to land-based heritage. The Convention is strongly supported by underwater archaeologists, who actively apply and enforce its regulations. Belgium is the 45th State to ratify it.