The Receiver of Wreck, Salvage Law etc.

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The Receiver of Wreck - Introduction

The Receiver of Wreck is an official of the British government whose main task is to process incoming reports of wreck in order to:

  • Give the legitimate owner the opportunity to retrieve their property
  • Ensure that law-abiding finders of wreck receive an appropriate reward

This involves researching ownership, liaising with the finder and the owner, and other interested parties such as archaeologists and museums.

Under British law, he/she is also to be notified on the disposal of whale carcasses impeding shipping lanes in British waters.

Operating on behalf of the Department of Transport the Receiver of Wreck is located within the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Until 1993 the job was carried out by numerous coastal customs officials. Nowadays the Receiver is based in Southampton and is helped by local outposts of HM Coastguard.

The current Receiver of Wreck is Sophia Exelby (Contact her on 02380 329474 or email

What is wreck?

According to the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, wreck is:

  • Flotsam - Flotsam are goods lost from a ship which has sunk or otherwise perished which are recoverable because they have floated.
  • Jetsam - Jetsam are goods cast overboard in order to lighten a vessel which is in danger of sinking, even if they ultimately perish.
  • Derelict - Derelict is property which has been abandoned and deserted at sea by those who were in charge without any hope of recovering it. This includes vessels and cargo.
  • Lagan - Lagan (or ligan) are goods cast overboard from a ship, which afterwards perish, buoyed so that they can be recovered later.

The requirements of UK law

It is a legal requirement that all recovered wreck landed in the United Kingdom is reported to the Receiver of Wreck, whether recovered from within or outside UK waters and even if the finder is the owner. The Receiver of Wreck will investigate ownership. The owner has one year in which to come forward and prove title to the property. During this period it is common for the finder to hold the wreck on behalf of the Receiver of Wreck while investigations are carried out.

Wreck which remains unclaimed after a year becomes the property of the Crown and the Receiver of Wreck is required to dispose of it. Often the finder is allowed to keep items of unclaimed wreck in lieu of a salvage award.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Wreck of the MSC Napoli, Branscombe, Devon

(If you visited Branscombe today, please email me or go over to the forum, I would love to hear some first hand accounts from people who were actually there).

Sophia Exelby (the Receiver of Wreck) must have one hell of a headache today (January 22, 2007).

The 62,000 tonne container ship, MSC Napoli, got into difficulties last Thursday (January 18, 2007) and was later deliberately run aground to prevent her sinking. She has since lost some of her containers to the sea (40 according to the BBC), and so began the free-for-all.

Would be salvors arrived from all over the south west to pick over what had been washed up and many very valuable items were recovered, including at least one car and as many as 50 brand new BMW motorcycles. Other items washed ashore on the tide were of a more utilitarian nature, shampoo, nappies and bags of fertiliser.

Many news programs are also reporting that Napoli was carrying potentially dangerous chemicals.

If you are one of the people who recovered items on the beach at Branscombe today, please read everything written below very carefully, 'Salvage' is not another term for 'finders keepers' there are rules and regulations that need to followed, and failure to obey the law could land you in hot water.

I don't like to be the bearer of bad news, but I don't want any of the many visitors coming here for information on UK salvage law to get into trouble.

Remember - it is part of the receiver of wreck's job to make sure that people who recover material from a wreck site legally receive an appropriate reward!!!

If you have any doubts or require further information please contact the Receiver of Wreck:

Sophia Exelby (Contact her on 02380 329474 or email


Apparently, all roads to the site are being sealed off and the rumour mill is reporting that the police will soon remove everybody not involved with recovery or clean up operations from the beach and prevent further access to the area.


A man appeared on the news about half an hour ago holding a steering wheel for a BMW M5 (I am told these are incredibly expensive to buy) and said that he was thinking about putting it on eBay, don't do it! Call the Receiver of Wreck!


Nappies supposedly from the MSC Napoli are now for sale on eBay, bad idea people! (this particular auction is probably a joke) [link now dead]

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