Judge clears the way for salvagers to open up the Titanic and retrieve Marconi radio

by Alan Boyle | GeekWire

The Titanic sank during its maiden voyage in 1912. (Acme Newspictures via Library of Congress)

A federal judge says RMS Titanic Inc. can go forward with its plan to cut into the Titanic shipwreck and try retrieving the Marconi wireless telegraph machine that sent out distress calls 108 years ago.

In an order issued Monday in Norfolk, Va., District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith said RMS Titanic, the court-designated salvage firm for the Titanic, made its case that the radio had enough historic value to justify sending a specially equipped robot into the wreck. The remotely operated submersible would be equipped with tools to cut through the deckhouse if necessary.

The Titanic is arguably the world’s most famous shipwreck ⁠— and a monument to the more than 1,500 people who died when the luxury liner struck an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic, during its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912.

Researchers rediscovered the wreck in 1985, and since then, hundreds of artifacts have been recovered from the bottom of the ocean and put on exhibit. That’s what RMS Titanic is planning to do with the radio.

In her ruling, Smith wrote that retrieving the radio “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.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had argued that the expedition was prohibited under federal law and an international agreement, but the judge said a salvage agreement dating back to 2000 took precedence.

RMS Titanic is planning to conduct its expedition in August.

Watch a deleted scene from the movie “Titanic,” featuring the Marconi radio.

During a video session presented last month by Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate, Bretton Hunchak, president of RMS Titanic, said the expedition would focus on the Marconi radio for a number of reasons.

“Many people have called it the voice of Titanic, and I don’t necessarily think that’s wrong,” Hunchak said. “What I do think is wrong is that some people think it’s just a radio. … The story of Titanic is really one about overcoming adversity, and I think in today’s environment, that rings truer than ever, right? We’re afraid to go outside, we’re afraid about what to do with our families.”

He said the 700 passengers who survived the Titanic’s sinking faced similar adversity, and argued that the tabletop radio was emblematic of their survival.

“The only reason there were survivors, and the only reason that we’re sitting here today discussing the wreck, and are able to do this research, is because of that radio,” Hunchak said.

Putting the radio on exhibit will help the world “re-engage with Titanic,” he said.

During the expedition, RMS Titanic would conduct a video survey of the wreck, which is reportedly decomposing rapidly. Smith directed the company to make any recordings available to the court as well as to NOAA.

OceanGate is working with RMS Titanic because it’s planning its own Titanic expedition next year, using a five-person submersible that’s currently under construction. The company is leaving some spots open on its dives for mission specialists who are paying more than $100,000 each to be in on the expedition.

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