Feds oppose 2024 Titanic artifact retrieval, citing sacred wreck site

11:44 30.08.2023

The US government is attempting to prevent a planned expedition to recover artifacts from the Titanic wreckage, scheduled for May 2024, citing a federal law and international agreement that designates the shipwreck as a hallowed grave site. The expedition is being organized by RMS Titanic Inc., a Georgia-based firm that holds the salvage rights to the Titanic wreck. The government's opposition to the expedition comes in the wake of a tragic incident in which a manned submersible from another company imploded, resulting in the deaths of five individuals.

The legal battle is currently unfolding in the US District Court in Norfolk, Virginia, which oversees Titanic salvage matters. The government argues that the planned entry into the ship's severed hull, as intended by RMST, would violate both a federal law and a pact with Great Britain to treat the sunken ship as a memorial to the more than 1,500 people who perished when the ship collided with an iceberg and sank in 1912. The primary concerns of the government are the potential disturbance of artifacts and human remains that may still be present on the wreck.

Lawyers representing the government assert that RMST cannot disregard the federal law and must respect the protections granted to the shipwreck by Congress. They argue that the shipwreck "will be deprived of the protections Congress granted it" if RMST proceeds with its stated intentions. The expedition aims to capture photographs of the entire ship, including the interior, and recover artifacts from the debris field, but the company has stated that it does not plan to cut into the wreck or detach any part of it.

One of the key areas of interest within the Titanic wreck is the Marconi room, which holds the ship's radio, a Marconi wireless telegraph machine. This radio was the first to transmit Morse code messages about the ship's collision with the iceberg, which were received by nearby ships that subsequently aided in the rescue of approximately 700 survivors. RMST has indicated that they may recover "free-standing objects inside the wreck," including items from the Marconi room, as long as they are not affixed to the wreck itself.

RMST has pledged to work collaboratively with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which represents the public interest in the Titanic wreck. However, the company does not intend to seek a permit for the expedition. US government lawyers argue that RMST cannot proceed without obtaining approval from the secretary of commerce, who oversees NOAA. In the past, RMST has challenged the constitutionality of US efforts to infringe on its salvage rights, asserting that the court in Norfolk has sole jurisdiction due to centuries of precedent in maritime law.

This is not the first time that the government and RMST have been embroiled in a legal battle over a proposed expedition. In 2020, RMST planned to retrieve the Titanic's radio by using an uncrewed submersible to access the deck house near the grand staircase. The submersible would have slipped through a skylight or cut through the corroded roof, and a suction dredge and manipulator arms would have been used to remove loose silt and cut electrical cords. However, the government filed a legal challenge against the expedition, resulting in its postponement due to the pandemic.

RMS Titanic Inc. has emphasized its commitment to preserving the memory and legacy of the Titanic, its passengers, and crew. The company has recovered and conserved thousands of artifacts from the Titanic wreck over the past three decades, which have been exhibited to millions of people worldwide. Despite the ongoing legal battle, RMST intends to continue its work in this regard. The fate of the planned expedition and the recovery of artifacts from the Titanic wreckage now rests in the hands of the US District Court in Norfolk.

/ Wednesday, August 30, 2023, 11:44 AM /

themes:  Virginia

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