The United States Government is attempting to prevent a planned expedition to recover historical artifacts from the wreck of the White Star liner, RMS Titanic.
Georgia-based company RMS Titanic Inc. (RMST), which owns salvage rights to the famous shipwreck, is organizing the expedition, which is scheduled to take place in May 2024.
However, the US Government has launched a legal challenge against the planned expedition, citing a federal law and an international agreement with the UK that regards the wreck as a hallowed gravesite.
The legal challenge has been launched in the US District Court in Norfolk, Virginia, which oversees matters regarding the Titanic.
The US Government states that entering the Titanic's hull is regulated by federal law and the international agreement with the UK. The Government has stated that the planned expedition may disturb artifacts and human remains located at the wreckage.
"RMST is not free to disregard this validly enacted federal law, yet that is its stated intent," Government lawyers said in court documents filed last Friday.
The lawyers also argue that the Titanic will be "deprived of the protections Congress granted it" if the expedition is carried out, according to a report in the Associated Press.
The legal challenge comes just over two months after five people died when a Titan submersible imploded during a dive to the wreckage. However, the ongoing challenge is unrelated to that fatal accident.
In documents filed with the court in June, RMST said it plans to take images of the entire wreck during the expedition, including images from "inside the wreck".
The company states that deterioration to the wreckage has opened a chasm sufficiently wide enough for a vehicle to enter the hull without causing damage.
RMST said it would also recover artifacts from the debris field and added that it may recover free-standing artifacts from inside the ship's Marconi room during the expedition. However, it said it would not recover any artifacts that are "affixed to the wreck itself".
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The Marconi room was the radio room onboard the Titanic and is home to a Marconi wireless telegraph machine that sent out distress signals when the ship hit an iceberg on April 15, 1912.
RMST said it does not intend to "cut into the wreck" or detach any part of the wreck during the expedition and said it would work "collaboratively" with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US agency that represents the public's interest at the wreck.
RMST says it does not intend to seek a permit for the expedition, but the US Government argues that it cannot proceed without one.
The company has not yet filed a response to the US Government's legal challenge but has previously challenged the constitutionality of the Government's attempts to "infringe" on its salvage rights to a wreck in international waters.
In a statement to the Associated Press this week, RMST noted that it had recovered thousands of items from the Titanic since it was granted salvage rights three decades ago, adding that the items have been seen by millions of people all over the world.
"The company will continue its work, respectfully preserving the memory and legacy of Titanic, her passengers and crew for the future generations," RMST told the AP in a statement.
The US Government and RMST were locked in an almost identical legal battle in 2020, when the company planned to cut into the wreck to retrieve the radio.
U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith ruled in May 2020 that the radio was culturally and historically significant and granted permission for its retrieval, with the U.S. government challenging the ruling several weeks later.
However, the expedition never took place due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Here is some footage of the Titanic wrecked from OceanGate in 2022: