A sunken ship should belong to the company who owned it at the time of its sinking and should retain ownership through any future mergers or buyouts, unless it has sold its ownership rights to the wreck to another party, which it can do at any time after the sinking. However, the entity that owns the wreck should be required to pay a littering penalty based on the total estimated number of pounds of the wreck and cargo to the owner of the property in which the wreck lies (usually state, national, or international governments or the specific agency managing those waters). At the same time, an additional pollution tax based of the estimated amount of specified environmentally hazardous materials contained within the wreck, including ship and cargo, should be assessed. Interest on this total penalty amount should begin to accrue annually on the calendar year following the year of the wreck. Each year, beginning with the calendar year following the sinking, the entity owning the wreck should be required to pay a minimum of 10% of these original total penalty charges to the appropriate entities. Such payments could take place at any time within that calendar year, just as long as 10% is paid by December 31st of that year. Any entity purchasing or otherwise assuming ownership of the wreck should be required to continue with such payments, unless they have already been paid (which would occur after about 12 to 14 years (if the minimum 10% payments are made annually) or so because paying the accrued interest is not required until all the principle has been paid).
Entities who were the original owners of a shipwreck but not the land on which it is located, should be required to pay the proper landowner a fee of .1% of the original, pre-wrecked, estimated value of the ship and cargo every year, for infinity. The requirement to pay this fee could be permanently eliminated once the wreck’s owner has agree to relinquish ownership and all rights to benefit in anyway from any future activities related to the wreck, including salvaging, tourism, etc.
If for any reason, the owners do not exist, cannot be located or refuse to pay the necessary fees to the proper land-owner, then the country (or international government, such as the United Nations) in whose territorial waters the wreckage lies should become the sole owner of the wreck. The government exercising ownership should then be entitled to either salvage the wreck, protect it by declaring it a memorial, monument, etc., sell it, declare it public domain, or do with it what the majority of the people of that country would want done with the wreck. It also has the option to do nothing with the wreck other than just maintain a log of it and list it on a map.
Governments should insure that wrecks with unusually rich histories or potentially rich archeological data be protected and preserved for scientific study.