The U.S. government is working to stop a planned salvaging expedition to the RMS Titanic wreckage, citing federal law and an international agreement that the shipwreck be treated as a gravesite.
The expedition, planned for May 2024, would be carried out by Georgia-based company RMS Titanic, Inc. (RMST), which owns the salvage rights to the 111-year-old shipwreck, the Associated Press (AP) reported Tuesday. The intention behind its latest expedition is to photograph the entire wreck, including inside the vessel where “deterioration has opened chasms sufficient to permit a remotely operated vehicle to penetrate the hull without interfering with the current structure,” according to a court filing cited by the outlet.
Additionally, the operation would work to salvage artifacts from the debris field as well as “free-standing objects inside the wreck,” which the company says could include objects from inside the famed Marconi wireless room. The room holds the ship’s telegraph machine, where wireless operators Harold Bride and Jack Phillips spent the ship’s last moments desperately sending out distress calls for assistance.
The U.S. government is trying to stop a planned expedition to recover items of historical interest from the sunken Titanic, citing a federal law and an international agreement that treat the shipwreck as a hallowed gravesite. https://t.co/84uHl5EKgR
— CBS News (@CBSNews) August 30, 2023
The company voiced its intent to salvage the famed wireless radio in 2020, with federal judge Rebecca Beach Smith signing off on the expedition in May of that year. The recovery of the ship’s radio would “contribute to the legacy left by the indelible loss of the Titanic, those who survived, and those who gave their lives,” Beach wrote, AP reported at the time.
RMST initially declared it would use an unmanned submersible to enter through a skylight or cut through a heavily decayed roof on the ship’s deck to gain entry into the wireless room. From there, manipulator arms would cut electrical wires, freeing the wireless system, AP reported. However, the COVID-19 pandemic ultimately interrupted plans to execute the radio recovery operation.
Still, RMST maintains that objects would only be salvaged as long as they “are not affixed to the wreck itself,” AP reported. “At this time, the company does not intend to cut into the wreck or detach any part of the wreck,” RMST said.
U.S. officials, however, have argued that entering the deteriorating wreckage is regulated by federal law and an international agreement with Great Britain. In a legal challenge filed in June 2020, the government insisted that as a memorial site, entry into the Titanic wreckage should be regulated to “ensure its hull, artifacts and any human remains” are left undisturbed, according to AP. (RELATED: Descendants Of Titanic Victims Slam Wreck Tours: ‘It’s Disgusting’)
“RMST is not free to disregard this validly enacted federal law, yet that is its stated intent,” U.S. lawyers argued, according to the outlet. They further alleged the Titanic wreckage “will be deprived of the protections Congress granted it.”
While RMST has said it will work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as it prepares to go forth with the expedition, the company will not be seeking a permit from the U.S. agency despite a push from the federal government that in order to proceed, the company will require one.
Citing salvage rights that were granted to the company 30 years ago in a court of law, RMST has argued the U.S. government is infringing on its rights as the Titanic wreckage lies in international waters. In a statement to the AP, RMST pointed out that since its salvage rights were granted, it has recovered and preserved thousands of Titanic artifacts that have been viewed by millions of people.
“The company will continue its work, respectfully preserving the memory and legacy of Titanic, her passengers and crew for the future generations,” the company said, according to AP.