The Dutch Inspectorate and Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE) have found a new way to monitor shipwreck sites in the Wadden Sea and Dutch territorial North Sea. They have contracted the UK-based Maritime Observatory (MO), which will use satellite technology, artificial intelligence and local intelligence sources for this purpose.

The MO will monitor twelve maritime heritage sites, ranging from the fifteenth to the twentieth century, in Dutch territorial waters. The project follows on from a previous shipwreck monitoring programme undertaken within the International Programme for Maritime Heritage of the RCE and executed by the MO in 2019. This project focused on seven Dutch shipwrecks located in domestic waters and overseas in Belgium, the UK, and Malaysia.

By collaborating with the MO, the Dutch government is intent on preventing the looting of important sites for their artefacts and metals and for the monitoring of any wreck that could potentially suffer an environmental issue with fuel oil or ordnance due to human activity.

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Monitoring underwater heritage sites at risk

The MO has harnessed the growing capabilities of the commercial satellite sector to create a hub for monitoring the maritime and marine domain. Its purpose is to actively monitor and share information among relevant stakeholders, including government agencies, to protect wreck sites and deter illegal activity at sea.

By combining archaeological expertise and specialist knowledge with advanced technologies, the MO enables effective monitoring, enforcement and compliance for the protection of maritime heritage sites and disseminates relevant information to the appropriate authorities.

The aim of the project is to keep an eye on the wrecks and better understand which sites are at risk and how they are threatened. This is vital to enable the Dutch Information and Heritage Inspectorate, the RCE (which are both part of the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science), and other agencies and authorities to take timely measures and collaborate on the protection of these vulnerable heritage sites.

Also read: Dutch Coast Guard to monitor shipwrecks on behalf of Ministry in pilot

MAST and OceanMind

The MO is a partnership between the Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust (MAST) and OceanMind. MAST, experts in underwater maritime heritage, joined forces with OceanMind, a not-for-profit organisation that harnesses the growing capabilities of the space sector, to provide monitoring of human activity on the oceans.

‘Maritime heritage and the marine environment must not be studied in isolation from wider issues of maritime security,’ says Jessica Berry, MAST CEO. ‘This exciting project will continue to help the Dutch Inspectorate be better able to understand human activity at these sites and take the right enforcement actions where necessary.’

Martijn Manders, maritime archaeologist at RCE, adds: ‘we are pleased to have been able to set up the collaboration with the Inspectorate in the protection of the underwater cultural heritage, evolving from the work done between 2019 and 2021 with the Maritime Observatory. It is important to continue to provide actionable intelligence on human activity at these culturally important undersea sites, in order for us to protect this heritage.’

Usually divers are sent in to inspect shipwreck sites.

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