US government may drop legal challenge to company’s Titanic expedition

Georgia company RMS Titanic had planned to take photos inside the sunken liner’s hull and retrieve artefacts from the seabed.

The Titanic sank on April 14 1912 after hitting an iceberg (AP Photo/File)
The Titanic sank on April 14 1912 after hitting an iceberg (AP Photo/File) (AP)

The US government could end its legal fight against a planned expedition to the Titanic, which has sparked concerns that it would violate a law that treats the wreck as a gravesite.

Kent Porter, an assistant US attorney, told a federal judge in Virginia on Wednesday that the US is seeking more information on revised plans for the May expedition, which have been significantly scaled back.

Mr Porter said the US has not determined whether the new plans would break the law.

RMS Titanic (RMST), the Georgia company that owns the salvage rights to the wreck, originally planned to take images inside the ocean liner’s severed hull and to retrieve artefacts from the debris field.

RMST also said it would possibly recover free-standing objects inside the Titanic, including the room where the sinking ship had broadcast its distress signals.

The US filed a legal challenge to the expedition in August, citing a 2017 federal law and a pact with Great Britain to treat the site as a memorial.

More than 1,500 people died when the Titanic struck an iceberg and sank in 1912.

The US argued last year that entering the Titanic – or physically altering or disturbing the wreck – is regulated by the law and agreement.

Among the government’s concerns is the possible disturbance of artefacts and any human remains that may still exist on the North Atlantic seabed.

In October, RMST said it had significantly pared down its dive plans. That was because its director of underwater research, Paul-Henri Nargeolet, died in the implosion of the Titan submersible near the Titanic shipwreck in June.

The Titan was operated by a separate company, OceanGate, to which Mr Nargeolet was lending expertise.

Mr Nargeolet was supposed to lead this year’s expedition by RMST.

RMST stated in a court filing last month that it now plans to send an uncrewed submersible to the wreck site and will only take external images of the ship.

“The company will not come into contact with the wreck,” RMST stated, adding that it “will not attempt any artefact recovery or penetration imaging”.

RMST has recovered and conserved thousands of Titanic artefacts, which millions of people have seen through its exhibits in the US and overseas.

The company was granted the salvage rights to the shipwreck in 1994 by the US District Court in Norfolk, Virginia.