Late 1985, weeks after the wrecked remains of the RMS Titanic came to lightOfficials in Washington began seeking legal authority to regulate access to the famous shipwreck as part of a memorial to the more than 1,500 passengers and crew members who lost their lives in 1912. Congress called for a global agreement, as the wreckage lay internationally. Water. Until then, Congress announced“No person shall physically alter, disturb or salvage the RMS Titanic.”
As nations debated a draft agreement, American supporters came to the fore. from years, thousands of artifacts These included a hat, perfume bottles, and the deck bell, which was rung three times to warn of an iceberg hitting the ship’s bridge.
Now, the federal government is taking legal action to establish control over who can recover artifacts from the shipwreck and, potentially, block an expedition planned for next year. comes as trick titan submarine disaster On June 18, questions arose over who controls access to the ship’s remains, which lie more than two miles below the North Atlantic sea floor. Legal action is also notable because it pits the legislative and executive branches of government against the judicial branch.
Last Friday, in a federal court in Norfolk, Washington, two US attorneys filed a motion to intervene in the decades-old rescue operation. Virginia court specializes in shipwreck recovery and 1994 cases special defense rights granted RMS Titanic, Inc. Co, which is based in Atlanta, Georgia. company Many artifacts were recovered from the ship and several public exhibitions were held.
The company acquired salvage rights in 1985 after the French-American team that discovered the Titanic made no recovery claims.
The federal government now wants to become a party to the defense case and block any offensive operations. It claims that the Secretary of Commerce and its maritime unit, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, claim legal authority to allow or deny access to the RMS Titanic whenever the “company” petitions the court to recover more artifacts. Asks for permission.
“This thing has been a long time coming,” said ole vermerA retired NOAA attorney specializing in shipwreck preservation. The federal government, he said, has been “compelled to intervene as a party and ask the court to enforce these laws.”
RMS Titanic plans to fight federal action. “The Company believes that it retains the right to continue rescue activities at the wreck site without seeking or obtaining approval from any third party other than the US District Court that has jurisdiction over the wreck site.” Is.” Brian A. WengerA lawyer for the RMS Titanic said in a statement.
Legal experts say the litigation could drag on for years, because of the high financial stakes for the company as well as fundamental issues related to international agreements and how the branches of the US government relate to each other on legal matters. He says that the matter may eventually go up to the Supreme Court.
“It’s a really interesting question,” said John D. Kimball, a partner at Blank Rome, a law firm in Manhattan, who teaches maritime law at New York University. “This is an attempt by the government to enforce treaty provisions and goes to the question of who has rights over the wreck site. The issues are complex and the decisions are likely to be appealed.”
For ages, maritime law ruled that explorers were keepers, In other words, a wreck explorer could expect to capture much, if not all, of the cargo and treasure. The Titanic affair became a modern example of that old principle in action.
In parallel, slowly and sometimes painfully, the federal government moved exercise your right On the Titanic rescue case. As directed by Congress, the State Department negotiated with Canada, France, and the United Kingdom to draft an international agreement. Congress in 2017 starring Law to carry out the agreement. It prohibited “any research, exploration, salvage, or other activity that would materially alter or disturb the wreck or wreck site of the RMS Titanic unless authorized by the Secretary of Commerce.”
Agreement struck in late 2019, as France and Canada sit on the sidelines entered into force between the United States of America and the United Kingdom.
A test case emerged in 2020, when the RMS Titanic announced it would try to recover the Marconi wireless telegraph from the ship, famous for broadcasting its distress calls. american lawyer filed a legal challenge in Virginia court, but the coronavirus pandemic cut short the proceedings and the planned campaign.
This year – on 13 June, five days before the Titan submersible accident that claimed the lives of five men who descended to view the wreck of the Titanic – the company again told the court that it planned to recover the Marconi telegraph , and does not require federal approval to do so. ,
Friday’s plea in Virginia court by US attorneys Jessica D. Eber And Kent P. Porter A battle has resumed over who controls access to the world’s most famous shipwreck. The RMS Titanic, a US filing said, “must comply” with federal implementation law for international agreements and any recoveries would require permission from the Commerce Department.
The filing states that the company’s refusal to comply with the law causes “irreparable harm” to the United States, as it undermines Washington’s ability to enforce the global accord and deprives it of its “legal rights under federal law.” prevents you from fulfilling your obligations.
The company has not yet filed a response, and the court has yet to rule on the federal motion to intervene in the defense case.