US opposes 2024 expedition to recover Titanic artifacts, says shipwreck is a grave site

US opposes 2024 expedition to recover Titanic artifacts, says shipwreck is a grave site

The US wants to stop a planned expedition to recover artifacts from the Titanic wreckage next year, citing a federal law and international agreement that declares the shipwreck as a hallowed grave site.

RMS Titanic Inc., a Georgia-based firm that owns the salvage rights to the Titanic wreck, has organized the unmanned voyage and plans to take photos of the entire ship and enter its hull.


The government’s challenge to the expedition comes less than three months after five people were killed when a manned submersible from a different company imploded while descending to tour the wreckage.

The legal battle is playing out in the US District Court in Norfolk, Virginia, which oversees Titanic salvage matters.

The government has argued that entering the ship’s severed hull, as RMST intends to do, would breach a federal law and a pact with Great Britain to treat the sunken ship as a memorial to the more than 1,500 people who died after the ship crashed into an iceberg and sank while crossing the Atlantic in 1912.

The Titanic sank on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York in 1912.
Atlantic Productions/Magellan

The government’s chief concerns are the disturbance of artifacts and human remains that may still exist on the ship.

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

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The expedition, tentatively scheduled for May 2024, includes taking photographs of the entire ship — including inside.

RMST said in a court filing the mission would recover artifacts from the debris field and “may recover free-standing objects inside the wreck.”

The US says a company’s plans to photograph and enter the ship could damage artifacts and breach a pact with the UK to treat the site as a grave.
Getty Images

Those could include “objects from inside the Marconi room, but only if such objects are not affixed to the wreck itself.”

The Marconi room holds the ship’s radio — a Marconi wireless telegraph machine — which was the first to broadcast Morse code messages about the ship’s collision with the iceberg. The message was picked up by nearby ships, who responded and helped save about 700 people who fled in lifeboats.

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

RMST has pledged to “work collaboratively” with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which represents public interest in the wreck. It will not pursue a permit, however.

Titan submersible from OceanGate Expeditions
Five people were killed earlier this year when the Titan submersible from OceanGate Expeditions imploded while descending to the shipwreck.

US government lawyers said the firm can’t proceed without one, arguing that RMST needs approval from the secretary of commerce, who oversees NOAA.

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RMST in the past has challenged the constitutionality of U.S. efforts to “infringe” on its salvage rights to a wreck that’s located in international waters.

The firm has argued that only the court in Norfolk has jurisdiction, citing centuries of precedent in maritime law.

The government and RMST were engaged in a similar legal fight in 2020 when the company planned a mission to retrieve a radio onboard.

Titanic wreck
RMST hopes to visit the Titanic without a US government permit in May 2024.
Atlantic Productions/Magellan

The plan was for an uncrewed submersible to slip through a window or hold on the roof. A “suction dredge” would then 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.”

District Judge granted RMST permission in May 2020, writing that the radio is historically and culturally important and could soon be lost forever due to decay.

Weeks later, the U.S. government filed an official legal challenge against the 2020 expedition, which never happened. The firm delayed its plans in early 2021 due to the pandemic.

With Post wires