US Government Moves to Block Titanic Artifact Recovery Mission

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The U.S. government seeks to block a proposed expedition aiming to recover historical artifacts from the sunken Titanic, invoking federal law and an international agreement that recognize the shipwreck as a sacred memorial site.

This expedition is spearheaded by RMS Titanic Inc., a Georgia-based company that holds salvage rights to the renowned shipwreck. The company displays the salvaged artifacts – ranging from silverware to a part of Titanic’s hull – recovered from the depths of the North Atlantic where the ship met its doom.

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The government’s intervention follows an unrelated incident over two months ago when five lives were claimed by an equipment malfunction near the oceanic gravesite. This lawsuit isn’t connected to that tragedy, but rather to the legal implications of the planned expedition.

The ongoing legal dispute in the U.S. District Court of Norfolk, Virginia, which supervises Titanic salvage affairs, revolves around these national and international pacts with the United Kingdom, which regard the Titanic as a monument for the over 1,500 souls lost when it sank in 1912.

The U.S. posits that accessing or altering the ship’s fragmented hull — or causing any disturbance to the wreck — is overseen by federal law and agreement with Britain. The government’s reservations include potential disruption of remains and disturbance of artifacts.

RMS Titanic Inc. faces valid U.S law that it can’t overlook, expressed U.S. lawyers, asserting that the Titanic will lose the protections granted by the Congress.

The prospective expedition, as stated in a June court filing, is earmarked for May 2024. RMS Titanic Inc. plans to snap images of the entire wreck, even the parts inside the ship. This includes areas decayed sufficiently to allow an unmanned vehicle access without interfering with its present structure.

RMS Titanic Inc. stated intentions to gather artifacts from the debris field and possibly free-standing articles inside the wreck, including items from the Marconi room that are not attached to the ship. This room is the residence of the ship’s radio, a Marconi wireless telegraph machine, which transmitted the Titanic’s rapidly escalating distress signals. These Morse code messages were picked by boats and onshore stations, aiding the survival of about 700 people.

RMS Titanic Inc. clarified it has no plans to remove any parts of the wreck or make cuts in the structure. It further expressed its willingness to cooperate with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. agency safeguarding public interest in the wreck. However, it does not plan to apply for a permit.

U.S. government lawyers contend that activity cannot commence without a permit and that RMS Titanic Inc. requires approval from the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, who supervises NOAA.

While the company has yet to respond formally, in prior cases, RMS Titanic Inc. has defended its salvage rights to the wreck in international waters and disputed U.S attempts of interference as unconstitutional. It stands by its claim that only the Norfolk’s court has jurisdiction, citing hundreds of years of maritime law tradition.

In a statement, RMS Titanic Inc. has stressed that it will continue with its work, preserving the memory and legacy of the Titanic, its passengers, and crew for future generations, in a way which befits the salvage rights it was granted thirty years ago.

In 2020, a similar legal face-off emerged between RMST and the U.S government due to another planned expedition that involved potentially damaging the wreck. However, due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, the proceedings were prematurely interrupted.

The 2020 endeavor sought to retrieve the radio resting near the grand staircase. An unmanned submarine would penetrate through a skylight or gradually corroded ceiling. However, the pandemic has indefinitely postponed these plans.