Building peace in the minds of men and women

UNESCO draws attention to the protection the underwater cultural heritage of World War I

UNESCO will organize on this occasion and in regard to the Centenary of the First World War a scientific conference on underwater heritage of WWI to be held in Bruges, Belgium 26-28 June, 2014, with the support of the Government of Flanders.

From 2014 onwards, ships, cruisers, ocean liners, and destroyers sunk during World War I will fall under the protection of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

This conference will be followed by a commemorative event on the evening of 27 June and on the morning of 28 June. For this event UNESCO has tasked the well-known young French artist Clément Briend with the elaboration of an illumination show on underwater cultural heritage to be shown as part of the commemoration event in occasion of the Centenary of World War I on the Burg Square in Bruges, Belgium (Friday 27 June 2014, 9.45 pm).

In addition, UNESCO calls on all vessels at sea to participate in the commemorative event by half-masting their flags on 28 June 2014. Ships in harbour are encouraged to use a remembrance sound signal on the same day at 7 pm to commemorate the Centenary. This will serve to call for peace and reconciliation but also to remind the international community of the need to protect the underwater cultural heritage remaining from WWI. To facilitate this initiative, on UNESCO’s request, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has issued a “Safety of Navigation Circular” to IMO Member States in December 2013.


UNESCO calls moreover on divers and the general public to undertake activities focusing on submerged heritage from the 1914-1918 period taking into account responsible access to submerged heritage sites. This initiative is supported by dive organizations worldwide, in particular the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) (United Kingdom) and the World Underwater Federation (CMAS).


An important part of World War I was fought at sea, either on the surface or - and this was a first – under water. The wrecks of ships and submarines that have sunk during the conflict therefore present today an invaluable information source. Their hulls contain a snapshot of history that has not been the subject of sufficient research so far. These wrecks also serve as custodians of the memory of the thousands of people who have lost their lives there. This fragile heritage that lies at the bottom of the oceans now enters the scope of the UNESCO 2001 Convention. The Convention designates underwater cultural heritage as “all traces of human existence having a cultural, historical or archaeological character which have been partially or totally under water, periodically or continuously, for at least 100 years.”