A federal judge in Virginia has ruled that a salvage firm can retrieve the Marconi wireless telegraph machine that broadcast distress calls from the sinking Titanic ocean liner. In an order released Monday, US 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. 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. Smith's order is a big win for RMS Titanic Inc., the court-recognized salvor, or steward, of the Titanic’s artifacts. But the battle may not entirely be over. The AP explains:
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which represents the public’s interest in the wreck site, fiercely opposes the mission. NOAA argued in court documents that the telegraph is likely surrounded "by the mortal remains of more than 1500 people," and should be left alone.
- The proposed expedition also has been controversial among some archaeological and preservation experts, and the firm may face more legal battles before salvage vehicles can descend nearly 2.5 miles to the bottom of the North Atlantic.
- NOAA says the expedition is prohibited under federal law and an international agreement between the United and the United Kingdom. Those restrictions emerged in the years after the court's 2000 order.
- In her ruling, Smith acknowledged NOAA's arguments. But she said the only matter before the court was the previous order made by the judge who preceded her. She wrote that NOAA is not a formal party in the case. And she said her ruling does not address the constitutionality of the agency's “claimed authority to wield approval power and control over salvage operations."
- The firm detailed its plan to retrieve the telegraph, which is believed to still sit in a deck house 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.
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