Future legal battles expected as public interest groups and archaeologists resist ruling to salvage items from the Titanic shipwreck where 1508 people lost their lives.
A federal judge in Virginia has ruled that retrieval of the Marconi wireless telegraph machine from the wreck of the RMS Titanic has permission to go ahead. This court-room victor is seen as a big win for the salvage company, RMS Titanic Inc, who plans on displaying the radio with stories of the men who tapped out distress calls to nearby ships “until seawater was literally lapping at their feet”.
It's expected that the attempted retrieve will be carried out by an unmanned submersible, which will travel 2.5 miles down to the bottom of the ocean. The Marconi wireless telegraph machine is believed to be located next to the grand staircase.
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On Monday, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith agreed with the salvage company that the telegraph machine "is historically and culturally important and could soon be lost within the rapidly decaying wreck site," the AP report.
She wrote that the recovery of the machine “will contribute to the legacy left by the indelible loss of the Titanic, those who survived, and those who gave their lives in the sinking.”
The White Star Line ship, Titanic RMS, was traveling from England to New York, having stopped at Queenstown (Cobh) in Ireland. On April 14, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the ocean. Only 700 people from its crew and passengers survived, 1508 were killed.
Judge Smith is the maritime jurist who presides over Titanic salvage matters, from a federal court in Norfolk, Virginia.
This ruling particularly controversial as it modifies a previous judge’s order, dating back to 2000, which had forbidden cutting into the shipwreck or detaching any part of it.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), representing the public’s interest in the wreck site, fiercely opposes RMS Titanic's mission. They argue that the telegraph is likely surrounded “by the mortal remains of more than 1,500 people,” and should be left alone. Essentially that the Titanic is a gravesite.
The RMS Titanic salvage mission has also received criticism from archaeological and preservation experts.
It is expected that there will be more legal battles over this retrieval plan.
The NOAA says these plans are prohibited under federal law and an international agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom. These agreements only emerged following the 2000 court order.
Smith added that the NOAA was not a formal part in RMS Titanic's case. She also agreed that her ruling does not address the constitutionality of the agency’s “claimed authority to wield approval power and control over salvage operations.”
Ole Varmer, a retired NOAA attorney and a senior fellow at The Ocean Foundation, said a salvage mission into the Titanic’s hull remains ripe with legal issues.
He said “The public interest in not disturbing the hull portions as part of a memorial was established more than three decades ago.
In RMS Titanic's 60-page submission to the court, including plans for the telegraph machine's retrieval, the salvage company explained: “The brief transmissions sent among those ships’ wireless operators, staccato bursts of information and emotion, tell the story of Titanic’s desperate fate that night: the confusion, chaos, panic, futility, and fear."
This is a big win for RMS Titanic who has recently come out of bankruptcy under new ownership.
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