Explorers to cut into wreck of the Titanic for first time

For the first time in the 108 years since the Titanic sank to the bottom of the ocean, causing the deaths of more than 1,500 people, explorers are set to cut into the ship and remove a piece. Their target is the wireless Marconi telegraph, one of the first of its kind, which the doomed ocean liner used to contact a nearby ship for aid. A federal judge in Virginia approved the expedition Monday, calling it “a unique opportunity to recover an artifact that will contribute to the legacy left by the indelible loss of the Titanic.”  Because of a backlog of personal messages, the wireless operators had ignored ice warnings from other ships. It plans to launch the expedition this summer, using underwater robots to carefully detach the Marconi and its components from the ship.  “If recovered, it is conceivable that it could be restored to operable condition,” they said in one filing. “Titanic’s radio — Titanic’s voice — could once again be heard, now and forever.” The recovery project has been vociferously opposed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose representatives argued in court that the Titanic, sunk off the coast of Newfoundland, should be respected as a grave rather than mined as a museum supply. “Titanic has always been a singular case of passionate, strongly held opinions,” said maritime archaeologist James Delgado, who helped mapped the ship on a 2010 expedition. “Just like a lion is much better appreciated in the wilds of the African savannahs than it is stuffed in a museum, so too does the Marconi apparatus best tell its story and share its value where it is,” the National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Center chief wrote to the court. The company responds that NOAA is hardly in a position to act as gatekeeper, having approved an expedition group last year that accidentally jostled the ship’s rail. “RMST is left to wonder why has NOAA gone to such great lengths to raise scores of questions about the competency, plans and equipment of a team that has actually led or participated in numerous successful expeditions to the Titanic, and the recovery of thousands of artifacts from the ship since 1987, when it does not ask the same questions of other rookie expeditionerswith no such track record,” the company wrote in a recent filing. “There are places where you can stick your finger through that rooftop,” oceanographer and RMST consultant David Gallo testified at one hearing. Senior Judge Rebecca Beach Smith agreed, calling photographs of the deterioration “poignant.” In the past thousand years, the basic principles of maritime law have not changed, and one is that whoever retrieves a wreck gets a reward. Within two years of the Titanic’s 1985 discovery by oceanographers, a Connecticut car salesman named George Tulloch had created RMST, made an expedition to the site and wrangled salvage rights by bringing a wine decanter into a Norfolk federal courtroom. A salvor who declines to donate their winnings to the poor no longer risks “the curse and malediction of our mother the holy church,” as the law was written in the 1100s. RMST retrieved thousands of items from the field of debris around the ship — bronze whistles, leather luggage — and set up a touring exhibition. In a coup when Tulloch was celebrating Thanksgiving, board members changed the locks on his office, according to media reports at the time. “It is difficult to envision that, once out in the North Atlantic, contrary voices advocating caution (if any are allowed to be present) will be heeded or heard,” NOAA officials wrote recently. The company was bought in bankruptcy in 2018; in a conversation several months ago, RMST attorney David Concannon readily called the former owners “dishonest hooligans” but said NOAA can’t recognize that the project is now in responsible hands. … It was an experience for them.” An international treaty giving the government control over the Titanic was tucked into a 2018 spending bill but has never been ratified, leaving NOAA and RMST at odds over whether the company needs permission to visit the site, and what power the agency has in the court case.