A salvage firm has won approval to cut into the Titanic and retrieve the wireless telegraph machine which broadcast distress calls before it disappeared beneath the ocean surface. The American company that obtained salvage rights to the site has been banned from slicing into the wreck or detaching any part of it by a court order for the past 20 years.
But in a big win for RMS Titanic Inc., the federal maritime judge in Virginia who presides over salvage matters concerning the historic liner ruled they could press ahead with a mission to recover the ship’s Marconi device. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith wrote that recovering the telegraph machine ‘will contribute to the legacy left by the indelible loss of the Titanic, those who survived, and those who gave their lives in the sinking’.
The Titanic had been traveling from England to New York when it struck an iceberg and sank in 1912, killing all but about 700 of the 2,208 passengers and crew. It has lain largely untouched two and a half miles down on the sea bed ever since its maiden voyage turned to disaster.
The judge’s ruling loosens restrictions imposed back in 2000 prohibiting the company from opening up the ship’s hull to hunt for diamonds. In a 60-page document submitted in court the company said it believes the telegraph device still sits in a deck house near the doomed liner’s grand staircase. They said an unmanned submersible would slip through a skylight or cut the heavily corroded roof to retrieve the it.
RMS Titanic Inc. added that it plans to exhibit the ship’s telegraph alongside stories of the men who tapped out distress calls to nearby ships ‘until seawater was literally lapping at their feet’. The company said: ‘The brief transmissions sent among those ships’ wireless operators, staccato bursts of information and emotion, tell the story of Titanic’s desperate fate that night: the confusion, chaos, panic, futility and fear.’
However, the plans are opposed by a number of groups, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which represents the public’s interest in the wreck site. They argued in court that the telegraph is likely surrounded ‘by the mortal remains of more than 1,500 people’, and should be left alone. Ole Varmer, a retired NOAA attorney and a senior fellow at The Ocean Foundation, said: ‘The public interest in not disturbing the hull portions as part of a memorial was established more than three decades ago.’