Following the high profile potential thefts of material from protected wreck sites, including the bow cap from the Holland No.5 Submarine and a Bronze cannon from the Dunwich Bank site, and on-going intelligence, Historic England has become increasingly concerned over the security of protected wreck sites where bronze cannon and other high value or collectable material remains on the seabed and where sites have smaller artefacts that are particularly attractive in respect of unlawful souvenir hunting.
Historic England commissioned MSDS Marine to undertake the development and testing of a forensic marker that can be used to mark underwater cultural property in early 2018. In 2019 the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands (RCE) became a project partner and will work with MSDS Marine and Historic England to develop two products for forensically marking protected wreck sites and a method of application for large scale wreck sites. Both products can be used by enforcement agencies to establish if artefacts have come from a particular wreck and if divers have been in contact with that wreck. These methods are being trialled on four protected wreck sites in the UK in 2019 and on various Dutch sites in international waters, starting with Malaysia.
The forensic marking of underwater cultural property will deter potential thefts and will provide law enforcement agencies with the ability to accurately identify the provenance of objects or artefacts that have been recovered as part of a criminal investigation or process of due diligence. Throughout the course of the project MSDS Marine will engage with, and help, communities and volunteers care for marine heritage assets.