The prolonged period of sunshine and calm seas over recent weeks has provided ideal conditions for recreational diving around our coastline. This has led to an increase in the numbers of people visiting the historic wrecks which lie just off our shores.
Of the 340 known ship and plane wrecks within Northern Irish waters only two have special levels of protection. These are La Girona, a warship of the Spanish Armada which sank near to Portballintrae in 1588, and HMS Drake, a WW1 cruiser which was torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1917 and sank in Rathlin Bay.
Access to the site of La Girona is restricted under the Protection of Wrecks Act (1973) and any person diving the restricted area without a licence may be prosecuted.
Diving the HMS Drake does not require any permissions. However, the removal of artefacts from the wreck without the appropriate Scheduled Monument Consent from the Department for Communities may constitute an offence, and any person doing so may be prosecuted under the Historic Monuments and Archaeological Objects (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.
Over the July holiday period the Department received a report of diving activity within the restricted area around La Girona and the removal of potential artefacts from the site. The Department is currently investigating this incident.
The Department for Communities and Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs work in partnership to manage and protect the marine historic environment. In response to this report, a DAERA patrol vessel will be undertaking regular inspections of both La Girona and HMS Drake over the summer months.
If you are diving any of Northern Ireland’s shipwreck sites please adhere to the following:
- The legal restrictions on diving the La Girona and the HMS Drake shipwrecks.
- Dive all historic wrecks on a ‘look but don’t touch’ basis and follow established codes of conduct.
- Should you observe anyone diving the waters surrounding La Girona this should be reported to the PSNI on 101. Describe your call as a Protected Wreck Site crime report.
It is important that we protect these important historic wrecks so that they are preserved and can be enjoyed by future generations of divers.
If you are a diver and would like to send us some information, images or videos of a wreck you have dived please contact us at: [email protected] and we will add it to our records.