US challenges planned Titanic expedition, citing ‘gravesite’ law

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The company said it would “work collaboratively” with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the US agency that represents the public’s interest in the wreck. But RMST said it does not intend to seek a permit.

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

The company has not filed a response in court, but it previously challenged the constitutionality of US efforts to “infringe” on its salvage rights to a wreck in international waters. The firm has argued that only the court in Norfolk has jurisdiction, and points to centuries of precedent in maritime law.

In 2020, the US 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 then was to retrieve the radio, which sits in a deck house near the grand staircase. An uncrewed submersible was to slip through a skylight or cut the heavily corroded roof. 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, US District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith gave RMST permission, writing that the radio is historically and culturally important and could soon be lost to decay. 

Ms 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 US 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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