Government fights plans for Titanic dive to find long-lost treasures

US tries to stop Titanic expedition to take treasures from wreck that is gravesite of 1,517 passengers who died

  • The government says the wreck is a hallowed gravesite and should be left alone
  • RMS Titanic Inc. wants to salvage highly sought-after artefacts from the wreck
  •  The two parties are currently duking it out in a Virginia District Court

The government is in a heated legal battle to stop a planned private expedition to recover items of historical interest from the sunken Titanic. 

The expedition is being pushed by RMS Titanic Inc. (RMST), a Georgia-based firm that bought the salvage rights to the world´s most famous shipwreck more than 30 years ago, and hopes to send a submersible down to the wreck in 2024.

But the government said in court documents published in the District Court of Norfolk, Virginia, that RMST would be flagrantly disregarding federal law and an agreement with Great Britain if it entered the Titanic’s severed hull.

Its lawyers also said that the government is worried that the company would disturb rare artefacts and even human remains that may still be onboard. 

‘RMST is not free to disregard this validly enacted federal law, yet that is its stated intent,’ U.S. lawyers argued in court documents filed Friday. They added that the shipwreck ‘will be deprived of the protections Congress granted it.’

The wreck has sat at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean since it sank in 1912

Stockton Rush, CEO of Oceangate, pictured here in the submersible that took his life two months ago, was criticised for how his company built the vessel

The Titanic is a hallowed grave that cannot be disturbed, lawyers for the US government have argued

The exploration company is known for showing off prized artifacts that have been recovered from the wreck site at the bottom of the North Atlantic, including silverware and a piece of the Titanic’s hull.

It wants to send an exploration vehicle down to photograph the wreck and recover ‘free-standing’ sought-after items from less explored areas, including the legendary Macaroni Room, which holds the wireless telegraph machine that sent out distress calls shortly before the Titanic sank. 

But RMST said it does not intend to seek a permit from the US government. 

The legal battle comes just two months after OceanGate’s ill-fated Titan submersible imploded near the sunken ocean liner, killing five people. 

Private companies, including OceanGate, were heavily criticised for trying to profit off the macabre incident in which around 1,500 people lost their lives. 

Private companies were heavily criticised for trying to profit off the Titanic tragedy

Helen Richardson, the 40-year-old great-granddaughter of a fireman on the Titanic, previously told MailOnline: ‘It should be left alone. It is a site where all those poor people lost their lives, and a tragic site even for those who survived.’

Meanwhile Anna Roberts, the great-granddaughter of a bedroom steward on the vessel that was said to be ‘unsinkable’, said: ‘I deplore the fact Titanic has become a tourist attraction. It is a graveyard and should be left in peace and respect.’ 

While RMST has not yet filed a response in court, it has previously claimed that the US has tried to ‘infringe’ its salvage rights to the wreck, which are in international waters. 

RMST also wants to take pictures ‘inside the wreck where deterioration has opened chasms sufficient to permit a remotely operated vehicle to penetrate the hull without interfering with the current structure.’

Rare artefacts reportedly still lie in the wreck of the Titanic, and RMST has the salvage rights to it

RMST says it wants to take free-standing artefacts from the wreck in a 2024 expedition 

‘At this time, the company does not intend to cut into the wreck or detach any part of the wreck,’ RMST previously stated. 

The company previously said it would ‘work collaboratively’ with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US agency that represents the public’s interest in the wreck. 

This isn’t the first time the two parties have locked horns in court. 

In 2020, the government and RMST engaged in a nearly identical legal battle over a proposed expedition that could have cut into the wreck.

But the proceedings were cut short by the coronavirus pandemic and never fully played out.

The company’s plan at the time was to retrieve the radio, which sits in a deck house near the grand staircase. 

An unmanned submersible was set to either slip through a skylight or cut the heavily corroded roof, before a ‘suction dredge’ would remove loose silt, while manipulator arms could cut electrical cords.

The company said it would exhibit the radio along with stories of the men who tapped out distress calls ‘until seawater was literally lapping at their feet.’

In May 2020, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith gave RMST permission, writing that the radio is historically and culturally important and could soon be lost to decay. 

Judge Smith wrote that recovering the telegraph would ‘contribute to the legacy left by the indelible loss of the Titanic, those who survived, and those who gave their lives in the sinking.’

A few weeks later, the U.S. government filed an official legal challenge against the 2020 expedition, which never happened. The firm indefinitely delayed its plans in early 2021 because of complications wrought by the pandemic.

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