Divers reminded not to disturb the wreck sites of La Girona and HMS Drake

Date published: 02 August 2021

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.

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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.

You can also report marine heritage crime to: Historic Environment enquiries and Marine Info requests 

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 and we will add it to our records.

Notes to editors: 

1 The protected areas surrounding the La Girona and HMS Drake as well as the locations of all other known ship and aircraft wrecks in NI waters are recorded on the Historic Environment Record of Northern Ireland map viewer. In the case of the Girona the area within a distance of 300m from Latitude 55° 14'.85 North, Longitude 06° 30'.05 West is a restricted area.

2. In addition all Protected Wreck Sites are listed in the annual Admiralty Notice to Mariners (ANM12) and published in Admiralty Sailing Directions. Further, the locations of restricted areas are readily available as they are clearly marked and annotated on Admiralty Charts.  

3. Statutory Instruments setting out the designation details of individual sites are available from the Office of Public Sector Information.

4.  Authorised access to the Girona protected wreck site is facilitated through a licensing scheme administered by Historic Environment Division on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). In Northern Ireland, licenses enabling access are subject to the authorisation of the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.  Application forms are available.

5. Detailed Departmental guidance can be found here.

6. Information on commonly dived historic wrecks and additional general diving guidance is available on the Dive-NI website.

7.  Follow the Department on Twitter @CommunitiesNI @loveheritageNI and Facebook.

8. Media enquiries via email to the DfC press office.

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