Few shipwrecks are as famous as that of the RMS Titanic, the British passenger ship that was deemed “unsinkable” at the time of her maiden voyage in April 1912, which was supposed to take it from Southampton in the U.K. to New York City. As we know, the ship never reached its final destination. It struck an iceberg in the waters of the Northern Atlantic and sank, taking the lives of more than 1,500 of the estimated 2,224 people on board.
The wreck itself wasn’t discovered, however, until 1985, and in the 35 years since there have been many diving expeditions to the wreckage site in order to observe it, document it and sometimes to recover artifacts. But an expedition that is currently being planned by the company that owns the salvage rights to the Titanic’s wreck is getting pushback from members of the oceanographic and archaeological community.
The company, RMS Titanic, Inc., says its expedition has a number of goals, one of the biggest being to find out more about how shipwrecks at depths such as the Titanic’s deteriorate. There is a lot of data, they say, on shallow water shipwrecks, but not much on deeper ones. There’s a recovery aspect too – the company is also hoping to find and bring back the ship’s original Marconi radio, which broadcast the final distress call and, RMS Titanic president Bretton Hunchak says, saved hundreds of lives. But the U.S. government along with members of the archaeological and oceanographic community are pushing back in federal court, saying that the company has not thoroughly considered how it will remove the radio without damaging or disturbing the wreckage or the possibility that there may still be human remains.
In May, a federal judge in Norfolk, Virginia, approved the expedition. U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith wrote that recovering the radio “will contribute to the legacy left by the indelible loss of the Titanic, those who survived, and those who gave their lives.” But the U.S. government filed a legal challenge in June, claiming the undertaking would violate federal law and a pact with Britain recognizing the wreck as a memorial site. U.S. attorneys argue the agreement regulates entry into the wreck to ensure its hull, artifacts and “any human remains” are undisturbed. The case is pending before the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.
Today on AirTalk, we’ll dive into the ongoing discussion over this latest expedition to the Titanic’s wreckage, find out more about the specifics of RMS Titanic’s plans for the dive and hear the concerns that the U.S. government and archaeological communities have raised in the ongoing court battle.
With files from the Associated Press
Bretton Hunchak, president of RMS Titanic, Inc., the organization which serves as the steward for the Titanic wreck site and owns the salvage rights to it
Paul Johnston, curator of maritime history and acting chair of the Division of Work & Industry at Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C.