Salvaging or scavenging? The rules for beachcombing

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Under the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, salvage remains the property of the original owner and anyone who finds washed up goods must contact a government official, the "receiver of the wreck".

On forms handed out by the police, individuals must declare what items they have taken and send it back to the receiver within 28 days. A Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) spokesperson said people could be charged with theft if they failed to report the salvage, but added: "People are allowed to store the salvage at home while the owner decides what to do."

The Sophia Exelby of the MCA said: "Failing to [report items] is an offence. The fine is up to £2,500 per offence."

A Devon Police spokesman said: "Just because it washed ashore doesn't mean it ceases to have an owner." But the police have no powers to stop people looting the goods.