Titanic salvage firm gets approval for controversial plan to cut into wreck, retrieve telegraph machine

A salvage firm has received approval from a judge in Virginia to remove the telegraph machine from the famous Titanic wreck that was used to send distress signals when the liner sank more than 100 years ago.

Salvage company RMS Titanic Inc.’s plan to retrieve the Marconi wireless telegraph has sparked controversy, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration among those who have fiercely opposed the mission. NOAA argued in court documents that the telegraph is likely surrounded “by the mortal remains of more than 1,500 people,” and should be left alone.

RMS Titanic Inc. submitted a 60-page plan to retrieve the telegraph, which is believed to still sit in a deckhouse near the doomed ocean liner’s grand staircase. The company said an unmanned submersible would slip through a skylight or cut the heavily corroded roof to retrieve the radio. A “suction dredge” would remove loose silt, while manipulator arms could cut electrical cords.

DID THIS ICEBERG SINK THE TITANIC?

Titanic hit an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. ship's time on April 14, 1912, and sank just over two hours later with the loss of more than 1,500 lives. The wreck, which is lying on seabed at a depth of 12,467 feet, is approximately 350 miles south of Newfoundland.

The remains of the RMS Titanic are rapidly corroding at the bottom of the North Atlantic. But a proposal to cut the ship's telegraph machine from the wreck has drawn fierce criticism. ((Image: © NOAA/Institute for Exploration/University of Rhode Island)

The remains of the RMS Titanic are rapidly corroding at the bottom of the North Atlantic. But a proposal to cut the ship's telegraph machine from the wreck has drawn fierce criticism. ((Image: © NOAA/Institute for Exploration/University of Rhode Island)

EYOS Expeditions, which led an expedition to the wreck site last year, also voiced its concerns about RMS Titanic’s plans earlier this year.

A spokesman for NOAA told Fox News that the agency is reviewing the court's decision and has no comment at this time. EYOS Expeditions also declined to comment on the court order when contacted by Fox News. "We have no comment as this does not involve us or our expeditions in any way," a spokesman said.

In a statement emailed to Fox News, RMS Titanic Inc. described the telegraph device as a tangible link to Titanic's past.  “We remain dedicated to sharing the legacy of the Ship and her passengers with the public," said Bretton Hunchak, President of RMS Titanic, Inc., in the statement. "Without the recovery, conservation and display of these artifacts, the ability to experience first-hand additional significant historic artifacts would be limited to only an exclusive group, those who have the privilege and economic means to travel to the wreck site."

The company also says that it is working to bring the history of Titanic and its artifacts to schools around the world. “It is important to RMS Titanic, Inc. that the recovery of the Marconi is part of educational outreach programs in schools," said Hunchak. "We are diligently working with multiple school districts to bring both our data and expertise to students so they can be a part of history and follow along as we endeavor to make this complex recovery."

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In an order released Monday, U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith agreed that the telegraph is historically and culturally important and could soon be lost within the rapidly decaying wreck site.

The 'Titanic', a passenger ship of the White Star Line, that sank on the night of April 14-15, 1912. (Photo by Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

The 'Titanic', a passenger ship of the White Star Line, that sank on the night of April 14-15, 1912. (Photo by Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

Smith wrote that recovering the telegraph “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."

Smith is the maritime jurist who presides over Titanic salvage matters from a federal court in Norfolk. Her ruling modifies a previous judge’s order from the year 2000 that forbids cutting into the shipwreck or detaching any part of it.

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The order has been described as a big win for RMS Titanic Inc., the court-recognized salvor, or steward, of the Titanic’s artifacts. The firm recently emerged from bankruptcy and is under new ownership.

Last year, an expedition to the Titanic led by EYOS Expeditions revealed the ill-fated liner’s deterioration on the North Atlantic seabed.

Eerie footage of the dive obtained by the BBC showed the Titanic’s rusting bow and parts of the ship’s wrecked hull. Despite the wreck’s rapidly deteriorating state, glass can still be seen in some of the Titanic’s portholes.

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More than 100 years after the Titanic’s sinking, the disaster continues to be a source of fascination. In 2017, a sea-stained letter recovered from the body of a Titanic victim was sold at auction for $166,000.

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The sextant used by the captain of the rescue ship Carpathia sold for just under $97,000 in 2016. A cup presented by Titanic survivor Molly Brown to the Carpathia captain sold for $200,000 in 2015.

The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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