Department for Transport


Guidance for Salvors

As with law relating to wreck, there are three main Acts which cover salvage. These are the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. In simple terms, the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 and the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 detail what salvors can’t do, and the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 covers what salvors can or must do.

Merchant Shipping Act 1995

The key issue for salvors is that under UK law, all wrecked vessels are presumed to have an owner. This may be an individual, an insurance company or underwriters. Therefore, the first thing an intending salvor should do, is make every effort to trace the owner, with a view to obtaining his or her permission before recovering the hull, fittings or items of cargo.

Intending salvors are also advised to notify the appropriate authorities before commencing salvage operations.

Where wreck has lain on the seabed apparently abandoned for many years, persons will normally be entitled to dive, locate the vessel and recover such parts of the vessel or contents as they can. This is subject to due observation of the rights which may have accrued to other salvors by virtue of prior possession.

Under the provision of section 236 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, all items of wreck found within or brought within UK territorial waters (12-mile limit) must be reported to the Receiver of Wreck. Even if ownership can be proved, the salvor is still required to notify the Receiver of the recovery.

What Happens to the Salvaged Wreck?

If the wreck was recovered from within UK territorial waters and no owner establishes a claim to the property within one year of it being reported to the Receiver, then it generally becomes property of the Crown and is disposed of at the discretion of the Receiver of Wreck through sale or auction, or offered to the salvor in lieu of salvage.

The Receiver is required to notify Lloyds of recovered property considered to be in excess of the value of £5000.

Legitimate salvors have rights of salvage. This is based on the value of the salved property. Other factors are also taken into account when determining salvage, these include the skills and efforts of the salvor, the nature and degree of danger and the measure of success obtained by the salvor

The Crown makes no claim on wreck found outside UK territorial waters and if no owner has come forward by the end of the statutory one-year period, the property is returned to the salvor.

The Receiver of Wreck will expect to recover any expenses accrued, for example, removal and storage costs, or obtaining valuations of the salved property. After any expenses are deducted, the proceeds of the sale are disposed of in the same way as if the property had remained unsold.

If the salvor can prove title to the material recovered, customs duty and/or tax may be due.

Wreck Law

Exceptions to the above are those wrecks which are protected under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 or the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. Details of these Acts can be found on the WRECK LAW page.