The U.S. government has filed a motion in a court in Norfolk, Virginia, to prevent further shipments to the wreck of the Titanic. This request is based on a federal law and an international agreement concluded with the United Kingdom, which consider the wreck to be a “sacred burial place”.
The expedition covered by this action is organized by RMS Titanic Inc. (RMST), a company based in Atlanta, Georgia, which has held exclusive rights to the ship’s objects since 1994. The company plans to enter the wreck to recover several artifacts, including the Marconi wireless telegraph, which allowed crew members to make distress calls after the Titanic struck an iceberg and began to sink on April 15, 1912.
RMST ensures that the deterioration of the Titanic “opened sufficient breaches to allow a remotely operated vehicle to penetrate the hull without interfering with the current structure”. But American authorities believe that any intrusion into the hull would cause the physical modification or disturbance of the wreck, which is prohibited by federal law – unless authorized by the Secretary of Commerce, and by a treaty with the United Kingdom.
This international agreement, concluded in 2019, strengthens the protection provided by Unesco and gives the two countries the power to authorize or refuse the granting of licenses to small British or American submarines – which constitute the bulk of the fleet equipped to get there – wanting to explore the ship’s hull for sightseeing or to collect relics. Last June, a small tourist submarine exploded with several people on board.
Washington’s legal argument also targets the absence of a shipping permit. RMS Titanic responds by referring to the Virginia court which granted it exclusive rights to the Titanic in 1994 and who, according to her, is the only one competent to decide this matter. RMST also boasts the support of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US agency responsible for representing the public interests of Titanicto legitimize the general interest of its mission.
“ This is a really interesting question. This is an attempt by the government to enforce treaty provisions and raises the question of who has authority over the wreck site »which is in international waters, said maritime law scholar John D. Kimball at New York Times. “The issues are sensitive and decisions are subject to appeal. »
In 2020, Washington had already challenged in court the holding of an expedition organized by RMST. The company finally obtained the approval of the judge, who justified his decision by the cultural and historical importance of the telegraph. The Covid-19 pandemic, however, forced the company to cancel the mission.