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Moratorium on Naval Aircraft Recoveries Lifted

  • Moratorium on Naval Aircraft Recoveries Lifted
    A Grumman Wildcat recovered from Lake Michigan was featured at a Warbirds in Review presentation in 2013.

July 16, 2015 - The United States Navy has eased its moratoriums on recovery of submerged artifacts and aircraft, the Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) announced on July 8. While the moratoriums are lifted, existing state and federal requirements, including the prohibitions contained in the Sunken Military Craft Act and associated permitting regimes remain in place.

The act was enacted in 2004 to preserve and protect all sunken military craft owned by the United States government as well as foreign sunken military craft that lie within U.S. waters from unauthorized disturbance. The moratorium on recoveries went into effect in mid-2014.

“I have determined that such a blanket prohibition is untenable and too inflexible given our responsibility to the public. I am lifting the standing prohibitions put in place earlier,” said Samuel Cox, the director of NHHC who arrived in his new post in late December 2015.

Cox mentioned the Lake Michigan, whose depths have provided dozens of aircraft recoveries over the years, as a source of more recoveries because its preserving cold, fresh water preserves the wrecks and makes them more restorable.

“But the longer they’re there, they will deteriorate sooner,” he said.

Cox said two main prerequisites would have to be met before a proposed recovery would even be eligible to qualify for the myriad permits and permissions. First, a project would need a good home, such as a museum, to display recovered items, and tell their stories. Second, a rock-solid preservation and restoration plan would need to be in place.

“This will be a high bar,” Cox said, noting that legal and environmental requirements are also higher than they were before. “Any recovery must also involve negligible cost to the U.S. Navy, and must be with the legal consent of all appropriate federal, state, and local government organizations responsible for environmental and historic preservation.” Any decisions to allow future recoveries will be made on a case-by-case basis. “We will still be cautious.”

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