The US government has filed a motion to stop a Titanic expedition planned for 2024, citing a law that protects and preserves the shipwreck as a gravesite.
The expedition has been organized by RMS Titanic Inc., a company that owns the exclusive salvage rights to the remains of the Titanic.
The legal battle comes just a few months after a Titanic tourist submersible vessel went missing and suffered a catastrophic implosion, killing all five passengers on board. The United States’ motion is not related to that incident, which involved just a tour of the wreckage rather than an effort to recover anything from the shipwreck site.
In the motion, filed in a federal court in Virginia, the US argues RMS Titanic Inc. must “obtain an authorization from the Secretary of Commerce” before conducting “any research, exploration, salvage, or other activity that would physically alter or disturb the wreck or wreck site of the R.M.S. Titanic unless authorized by the Secretary of Commerce.”
The remains of the Titanic were first discovered in 1985 on the Canadian continental shelf. In order to protect the wreck site from any potential harm or physical altering caused by American salvors, Congress passed the Titanic Memorial Act in 1986. The act directed the State Department and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration – which is under the Department of Commerce – to negotiate an international agreement, which entered into force in 2019.
RMS Titanic Inc. obtained the salvage rights through an order entered by the US District Court in Norfolk, Virginia, in June 1994, according to the filing.
The US argued in court documents filed Friday, that per the international agreement, “RMST is not free to disregard this validly enacted federal law.”
A similar legal battle took place in 2020.
RMS Titanic Inc. had said they wanted to recover the ship’s radio – a request that was granted in May 2020 by a US district judge. In that filing, the court stated they found that the company’s plan “seeks to minimize disturbance to the rest of the Titanic wreck, including to the hull of the ship and the remains of those 1,500 souls lost in the sinking of the ship.” The US government, however, filed a legal challenge to stop that planned mission, which ultimately never happened.
RMS Titanic Inc. said in a periodic report filed this June that the company is planning for a 2024 expedition but does “not intend to seek a permit,” according to the motion filed by the US government.
The US Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Virginia told CNN, “We are not giving any additional statements beyond what’s contained in the filing at this point.”
CNN has reached out to RMS Titanic Inc. as well as the lawyer representing the company for comment.
The Titanic sank on her maiden voyage on April 14, 1912, after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The ship did not have enough lifeboats for the approximately 2,220 people on board. More than 1,500 people lost their lives in the accident, and the Titanic became the most famous shipwreck in history.