RMS Titanic, Inc., (RMST) the company that owns salvage rights to the Titanic shipwreck, has indefinitely put off its plans to retrieve the vessel’s radio equipment for exhibit. The company cited the coronavirus pandemic for the delay, according to a court filing the company made on January 29. The Atlanta-based company said its plans have faced “increasing difficulty associated with international travel and logistics, and the associated health risks to the expedition team.” RMST’s primary source of revenue comes from its exhibits of its vast collection of Titanic relics, which have been closed or seen only limited attendance due to virus-related restrictions.
RMST — a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions and the “salvor-in-possession” of the Titanic wreck site — said its planned expedition to recover the ship’s wireless station equipment remains a top priority, however, and will “take place as soon as reasonably practicable.” The Marconi-equipped station transmitted the distress calls after the Titanic (on its maiden voyage) struck an iceberg some 370 miles off the coast of Newfoundland in 1912 and began sinking. The transmissions, heard by some nearby vessels, have been credited with helping rescue some 700 passengers in lifeboats deployed from the Titanic, but about 1,500 passengers were lost in the disaster. RMST has said the radio transmitter could unlock some of the secrets about a missed warning message and distress calls sent from the ship.
The coronavirus pandemic aside, RMST has been in an ongoing legal battle with the US government over whether the recovery operation would be legal. In May of 2020, a US federal judge in Virginia gave permission to retrieve the ill-fated ship’s wireless gear. The judge ruled that the radio gear has “significant historical, educational, scientific, and cultural value” and could soon be lost within the rapidly decaying wreck, and said the company would be permitted “minimally to cut into the wreck” to access the radio room.
RMST has said it would try to avoid cutting into the ship, noting that the radio room may be reachable via an already-open skylight. But, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has contended that the retrieval expedition is still prohibited under US law and under an international agreement between the US and the UK. NOAA has argued 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.”
RMST sought permission to carry out what it called a “surgical removal and retrieval” of the Marconi radio equipment, which 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 the 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.
RMST plans to use a manned submarine to reach the wreck and would then deploy a remotely controlled submarine to retrieve the radio equipment.