This question has been suggested to be transferred from Aviation site. However I have expanded my question also applicable to terra nullis (like Bir Tawil)

So, assuming we have a wrecked airplane located in international waters or in terra nullis (is any of both terms making a difference?):

  • Who can own the remains of the ship and cargo? Can anybody claim them if found?
  • Is there any difference between floating debris (for international waters) and sunk debris?

In my original question it has been answered that ICAO Annex 13 covers the case of civil airplanes, countries belonging to ICAO and accident investigation (so not fully covered). My understanding is that the "State of Registry" or the "State of the Operator" will make the decision of who owns the remainings afterwards.


My question was in the sense. If I find a wrecked airplane, can I take ownership of it or part of it?

Not directly, but you can get some reward for salvaging it and there is the possibility that the reward is keeping it. Wikipedia has a section on this in their Admiralty Law coverage as well as a separate article on the Law of salvage.

  • Reading the information I understand that your answer covers the situation where the airplane is recovered inside the ocean. What will happen in the situation of terra nulis? Will that be covered by Admiraly Law? – Trebia Project. Mar 28 '16 at 22:15
  • According to this, On vessels, spacecraft and structures in places with international jurisdiction or terra nullius, the general rule is that the operator state of the vessel is responsible for it and regulates laws there. Thus, you would apply the salvage laws applicable to the country in which the plane was registered. – WBT Mar 28 '16 at 22:28
  • Ok, I think this covers everything. Thanks! – Trebia Project. Mar 29 '16 at 19:45

The person who owned them before they were wrecked. If you crash your car, does that mean you no longer own it?

There are detailed international laws governing the rights of salvage of wrecks and there will almost certainly be insurance contracts involved that may change the owner but unless and until these kick in the owner is the owner.

  • My question was in the sense. If I find a wrecked airplane, can I take ownership of it or part of it? – Trebia Project. Mar 28 '16 at 20:54
  • No but you can claim salvage rights. – Dale M Mar 29 '16 at 1:16

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