Marine Heritage Crime

Home 5 Services 5 Marine Heritage Crime

MSDS Marine are leading the way in marine heritage crime prevention and investigation with their highly experienced team, development of innovative security measures and commitment to education and awareness.

Heritage Crime is:

“Any offence involving damage or loss to the historic environment, including all offences involving cultural property”

Historic England

Marine heritage crime has become a serious threat to historically significant wreck sites and as a result prevention and investigation methods have rapidly advanced in recent years with the development of site security protocols, forensic marking solutions and increased public awareness and improved enforcement agency responses.

MSDS Marine have four highly skilled team members with unique skills relating to marine heritage crime.

Alison James – Alison spent ten years managing England’s protected wreck sites at Historic England and built-up skills managing underwater cultural heritage including crime prevention and detection. She has been involved with a number of police investigations and acted as an expert witness in prosecutions.

Jenny Kent – Jenny is currently working on a number of MSDS Marine projects relating to marine heritage crime and in addition is a volunteer with Leicestershire Police. Jenny worked for Leicestershire police for eight years before reapplying her skills to archaeology. Jenny currently chairs a group of Heritage Watch Volunteers for the police, who specialise in heritage protection and awareness in Leicestershire.

Beccy Austin – Beccy was Deputy Receiver of Wreck at the Maritime and Coastguard agency for eleven years and was responsible for spearheading a multiagency collaboration to monitor, provide intelligence and respond to marine heritage threats. During her role as Deputy Receiver of Wreck, she was involved in intelligence gathering, investigating and then the prosecution for several marine heritage crimes including, Fraud and Merchant Shipping Act offences.

Alex Bliss – Prior to joining MSDS Marine, Alex was one of the two Finds Liaison Officers (FLOs) for Suffolk working within the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). Alex has spent much of his career working to administer the legal process of finds reported under the 1996 Treasure Act. A finds specialist, numismatist and ex metal-detectorist with over fifteen years experience, his wide-ranging knowledge and intelligence-gathering has actively aided law enforcement in bringing many heritage crime cases to successful conclusions. These include the seizure of a nighthawked Bronze Age hoard from Kent in 2018.


Protected Wreck Site Security

MSDS Marine are currently working with the Protected Wreck Association on a project funded by Historic England to increase wreck site security. This work includes evaluation of site security management, associated guidance notes and a new risk assessment system. The aim is to highlight the authority the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973 gives to the coastguard, police and other enforcement agencies. A Site Security Plan template details how sites protected under the PWA 1973 are accessed and the security protocols that must be observed to do so. Specifically, it states protocols that need to be followed when diving each individual site, and the actions that need to be taken in the event of illegal access. The accompanying guidance is intended to support Licensees and their teams in evaluating the Site Security. Assessing the security of a wreck site will inform Historic England of any sites which are at a high risk of heritage crime.  This will then advise Licensees by highlighting areas for concern and will in turn offer positive actions that can be taken to reduce the threat. The template is based on the security plan implemented by the South West Maritime Archaeology Group which has been used successfully for many years on the Salcombe and Moor Sands protected wreck sites.

The risk assessment tool explores how “at risk” the protected site is from criminal activity and feeds back advice to the Licensee team on improvements to site security. This information is generated by a Wreck Site Security Risk Calculator completed by the Licensee. The calculator automatically produces a report which will state the level of risk from Heritage Crime, why this level of risk has been applied and will give “quick win” opportunities to Licensees to easily improve their site security and thus the sites “risk level”.

Forensic Marking

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 became 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 recovered artefacts have come from a particular wreck, something that has been difficult to prove in previous cases. These methods are to be trialled on four protected wreck sites in the UK and on various Dutch sites in international waters.

The forensic marking of underwater cultural property, and raising public awareness of this 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 and we will be providing training for local enforcement teams as well.

Find out more about this project here.