U.S. Government Files Legal Motion to Halt Titanic Expedition in 2024, Citing Grave Protection Law

In a move that has stirred controversy among Titanic enthusiasts and historians, the United States government has filed a motion to halt a Titanic expedition scheduled for 2024. The mission, organized by RMS Titanic Inc., a company holding exclusive salvage rights to the Titanic, has been met with resistance from the U.S. authorities, invoking a law to preserve the shipwreck as a gravesite.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

This legal battle follows a tragic incident from earlier in the year when a Titanic tourist submarine disappeared and suffered a catastrophic implosion, resulting in the loss of all five passengers. However, it is essential to note that the current government motion is unrelated to this tragedy, as it pertains to an expedition aimed at researching and exploring the wreck rather than salvaging it.

The heart of the matter lies in the 1986 Titanic Memorial Act, which was enacted to safeguard the Titanic’s remains discovered in 1985 on the Canadian continental shelf. The Act directed the State Department and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a branch of the Department of Commerce, to negotiate an international agreement to protect the site. This agreement came into effect in 2019.

RMS Titanic Inc. obtained its salvage rights through a U.S. District Court order in June 1994. The recent U.S. motion argues that, per the international agreement, the company must obtain authorization from the Secretary of Commerce before undertaking any activities that could physically alter or disturb the shipwreck or its site.

This isn’t the first legal clash between RMS Titanic Inc. and the U.S. government. In 2020, a similar dispute arose when the company expressed its intent to recover the ship’s radio. Although a U.S. district judge granted permission in May 2020, the government filed a legal challenge to thwart the mission, which ultimately didn’t take place.

In its defense, RMS Titanic Inc. maintains that its upcoming 2024 expedition won’t seek a permit from the authorities, potentially setting the stage for a contentious legal battle. The U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Eastern District of Virginia has yet to provide additional comments beyond the contents of the filing.

The clash between preserving historical artifacts and maintaining the Titanic’s sanctity as a gravesite raises complex ethical and legal questions. While some argue the importance of preserving the ship as a solemn memorial to the lives lost in the tragic disaster, others contend that responsible salvage and research can provide invaluable insights into this historic event.