Does national, sovereign ownership of something extend through regime change?

Very recently a South Korean salvage team located the wreck of a Russian Imperial Navy cruiser (Dmitrii Donskoi) which was sunk in 1905 during the Russo-Japanese war. They believe the ship sank with 200 tons of gold bullion and coins worth $130 billion today. The salvagers have promised 50% of whatever is recovered to the Russians.

I am not a lawyer and salvage laws have always been a bit of a mystery to me.

My understanding is that a sunk ship belongs to the original owner unless they can be proved to have abandoned it. Abandoning it has to be explicit. Just leaving it there for 100 years without trying to look for it is not enough to be considered abandoned.

Perhaps more restrictive is (I think) that soveriegn ships (e.g. warships) are forever and ever the property of the country they belong to and cannot be legally salvaged without their permission.

But in this case the government who owned the ship was the former tsarist government of Russia. Since then there have been two regime changes. One to the Soviet Union 1917 and another government change in 1991 when the Soviet system collapsed and formed the current government.

So, legally, can the Russians claim ownership of this wreck or can the salvagers claim the government the ship belonged to no longer exists and take it all for themselves?

(Note that the wreck is in South Korean territorial waters and they would likely tell the Russians they can’t salvage the wreck if they didn’t allow this salvage so this may well be their best deal…just asking out of curiosity.)

For the most part, regime change doesn’t affect such matters.

For example, there’s the fortune found from (apparently) the Spanish galleon Mercedes found off the coast of Portugal. Spain sued and won it. This from a ship sunk in 1804! :eek: Spain went thru several governments: royal, republican, Franco, current one.

There appears to be no equivalent of a statute of limitations on these things.

Peru tried to get in on this since the treasure was looted from there. No dice.

Note that sometimes regime change does affects state property. E.g., at the end of the war in Europe, the Allies took over the German government and state property (including embassies) and a bunch of other things (e.g., patents). Upon the formation of West and East Germany, some of that stuff didn’t get returned to either country.

I think regarding the fall of the Soviet Union at least there’s some kind of treaty whereby Russia is recognised as the successor state of the USSR. Probably not one for the USSR being the Empire’s successor, but as it sat on nearly all the same territory of the Empire, it was kind of a given.
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But the USSR was recognized as the successor of Tsarist Russia, so the Russian federation is the successor of Tsarist Russia.

Does that mean all treaties and debts and whatever else continued from regime to regime intact?

Nitpicking but there have been three regime changes. The tsarist imperial regime was replaced by a republican government in February 1917 and the republican government was replaced by the Soviet regime in October 1917.

In theory, yes, but being sovereign states, trying to enforce debts can be difficult.

For example, the Tsarist regime issued a series of bonds on the London market to finance WWI expenses. The Soviet Union refused to pay the bonds as they came due, saying that they were the obligation of the old regime. It became an long-standing dispute between the UK and the USSR. I think the current Russian federation finally paid off the bonds, but at their face value a century on, it wasn’t a big deal.

The principle of succession is the reason the Russian Federation has a permanent seat on the Security Council - it’s the accepted successor to the USSR. It’s also why the People’s Republic of China is on the security council: it’s been recognized as the successor to the old Republic of China established by Sun Yat-Sen and Chiang Kai-Shek.

Ah - here’s an article from 1997, when the Yeltsin government finally redeemed the Tsarist bonds in France, but at modern exchange rates: Russia Redeeming Czar’s Bonds:

And here’s an article about how the bonds had acquired value as collectibles, but then became eligible to be redeemed, eighty years on:

Eighty years later, the Tsarist bond pays off - Old bonds can turn out to be a lot more than a nice bit of engraving to paper the loo with.

President George Washington, on advice of Alexander Hamilton, took a similar approach in 1793 in asserting U.S. neutrality and refusing to take Revolutionary France’s side in its wars with Great Britain and others. The U.S.'s treaty of alliance had been with the Kingdom of France, not with those who executed the King:

A slight tangent: Sec. 4 of the 14th Amendment explicitly disavowed the U.S. Government’s responsibility for any debts incurred by the rebellious Confederate government or its people:

Two different dynasties and two different republics, even (one of the “dynasties” lasted half a lunch hour, but still - Amadeo I de Saboya). And in 1804 there wasn’t even a “kingdom of Spain”, it was still two separate kingdoms. But, like Italy or Germany, it was one of those areas which “everybody knows where it is” even if its legal structure didn’t quite match the mental one.