A US federal judge in Virginia has given permission to retrieve the ill-fated RMS Titanic’s Marconi wireless gear, which transmitted distress calls from the sinking ocean liner during its maiden voyage. Judge Rebecca Beach Smith of the US District Court in Norfolk ruled that the radio gear is historically and culturally important and could soon be lost within the rapidly decaying wreck. The Titanic sank after striking an iceberg some 370 miles off the coast of Newfoundland in 1912.
“The Marconi device has significant historical, educational, scientific, and cultural value as the device used to make distress calls while the Titanic was sinking,” Judge Smith wrote in her ruling. She said the company would be permitted “minimally to cut into the wreck” to access the radio room.
David Concannon, a lawyer for R.M.S Titanic Inc., which the court has recognized as the steward of the vessel’s artifacts, said the company would try to avoid cutting into the ship, noting that the radio room may be reachable via a skylight that was already open. More legal wrangling may lie ahead. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) contends that the retrieval expedition is still prohibited under US law and under an international agreement between the US and the UK.
R.M.S Titanic has said the radio transmitter could unlock some of the secrets about a missed warning message and distress calls sent from the ship.
“It tells an important story,” Concannon said. “It tells of the heroism of the operators that saved the lives of 705 people. They worked until water was lapping at their feet.”
In an April court filing, NOAA argued against the salvage effort, saying that any benefit to be realized from cutting into the vessel to recover the Marconi equipment would not be “worth the cost to the resource and not in the public interest.”
RMS Titanic sought permission to carry out what it called a “surgical removal and retrieval” of the Marconi radio equipment. As might be expected, the deteriorating Marconi equipment is in poor shape after more than a century under water. The undersea retrieval would mark the first time an artifact was collected from within the Titanic, which many believe should remain undisturbed as the final resting place of some 1,500 victims of the maritime disaster. The wreck sits on the ocean floor some 2 1/2 miles beneath the surface, and remained undiscovered until 1985. R.M.S. Titanic said it plans to use a manned submarine to reach the wreck and then deploy a remotely controlled sub to retrieve the radio equipment.
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