PHILIPSBURG–Persons caught or those who are believed to be “treasure hunting” or exploring the country’s inland or territorial waters will be taken in for questioning and will face further criminal investigation by the relevant authorities.
In a stern message on Sunday the Ministry of Education, Culture, Youth and Sports Affairs (ECYS) said based on article 32 sub 4 it is forbidden to dig/excavate, move/remove or otherwise damage or disturb the maritime archaeological heritage of the country or parts from the inland or territorial waters of St. Maarten, without a waiver granted by the Minister.
“It is prohibited to remove any items found in the waters of St. Maarten that is of archaeological value. The Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport is to be notified immediately of any underwater cultural heritage which may not be removed in any way or form from the inland or territorial waters of St. Maarten. Person(s) that violate the law many face a fine of up to NAf. 1 million and a maximum prison sentence of four years,” Jacobs said in a press release issued by the Department of Communications DComm on Sunday.
“It is also illegal to travel with artefacts that are of historical value in any way or form without written consent from the Minister of ECYS. Doing so is considered to be illicit trafficking of goods.”
This applies to the entire inland and territorial waters of St. Maarten. According to the release, there are sites and wreckages that are considered to be restricted areas. One in particular being the HMS Proselyte in the Man of War Shoal Marine Park. There may be more wreckages in the waters of St. Maarten and the public is asked to adhere to instructions of the relevant authorities to move from a particular area if requested to do so.
“The Government of St. Maarten is not restricting access to the beach, however, any persons caught or believed to be treasure hunting or exploring without permission from the Minister of ECYS in the inland or territorial waters of St. Maarten will be taken in for questioning and further criminal investigation by the relevant authorities falling under the Ministry of Justice,” the release said.
The Minister said underwater cultural (archaeological) heritage is considered to be all traces of human existence having a cultural, historical or archaeological character which have been partially or totally under water, periodically or continuously, for at least 50 years such as sites, structures, buildings, artefacts and human remains, together with their archaeological and natural context: vessels, aircraft, other vehicles or any part thereof, their cargo or other contents, together with their archaeological and natural context; and objects of prehistoric character.
“It is prohibited to touch a registered monument or remove items of underwater archaeological value without a permit/waiver from the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport, or violate any of the conditions laid down in such a permit in whole or in part if it involves breaking down or moving of any objects on the seabed; destroying or damaging of any objects or wrecks, vessels or relics; alterations in any fashion (changing of coordinates); restoration, usage or allowed usage in a manner whereby the registered monument is defaced or put at risk; removal of any relics, items or artefacts from the seabed, wreckage or vessel; removal of any materials of archaeological value from the seabed; exploring of St. Maarten’s waters and/or seabed for personal purposes or gain without written consent from the Minister of Education, Culture, Youth and Sport (i.e. Treasure hunting) or disturbing or damaging the seabed or local coral during explorations.”
Based on Article 32 sub 1 of the Landsverordening Maritiem Beheer, there is a Contact point (“Meldpunt”) for underwater archaeological cultural heritage.
Article 32 sub 3 states that the person/entity that discovers an underwater archaeological cultural heritage or who knows or must reasonably suspect that there is a maritime archaeological/cultural heritage must report such to the contact point for underwater archaeological/cultural heritage or the Minister of ECYS. The Minister is to be notified immediately of any underwater archaeological/cultural heritage in the territorial waters or inland of St. Maarten. Persons who have queries can contact the Department of Culture at tel. 542-2056.