Cruise Ship History: Battle continues on fate of relics from doomed ship RMS Titanic. The tragic story of the famous liner just gets more tragic.

Cruise Ship History: Battle continues on fate of relics from doomed ship RMS Titanic. The tragic story of the famous liner just gets more tragic.

The Titanic was one of the largest passenger ships at its time in 1912. It was captained by Edward John Smith. It left England on April 10, 1912 and docked in France and Ireland before setting sail for New York. There were many immigrants on the ship from Ireland who were leaving for New York.  The ship struck an iceberg at 11:40 pm on April 15, 1912.  She was hit on the side of the ship and she started to fill up with water. During this time, women and children are put into life rafts. The bottom of the interior of the ship filled up fast and tipped the boat vertically. It sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912 at 2:20am.

The only existing footage of the RMS TITANIC is seen on this excellent youtube video from Aaron1912.

Nearly a century after the Titanic struck ice in the North Atlantic, a federal judge in Virginia is poised to preserve the largest collection of artifacts from the opulent oceanliner and protect the ship’s resting place.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith, a maritime jurist who considers the wreck an “international treasure,” is expected to rule within weeks that the salvaged items must remain together and accessible to the public. That would ensure the 5,900 pieces of china, ship fittings and personal belongings won’t end up in a collector’s hands or in a London auction house, where some Titanic artifacts have landed.

The judgment could also end the legal tussle that began when a team of deep-sea explorers found the world’s most famous shipwreck in 1985.

The salvage company, RMS Titanic Inc., wants the court to grant it limited ownership of the artifacts.

At the same time, a cadre of government lawyers is helping Smith shape covenants to strictly monitor future activity at the Titanic wreck 2 1/2 miles beneath the surface of the Atlantic. Amid evidence of the ship’s deterioration, experts and government lawyers say the sanctity of the Titanic must be properly protected as a memorial to the 1,522 people who died when it went down.

“For the most part, the value of Titanic is its history — and not from some pile of gold, silver and jewels,” said Ole Varmer, an attorney in the international law office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, whose office has developed guidelines for the Titanic.

Because the Titanic sank in international waters on April 15, 1912, and the ship’s owners are long gone, the wreck site and its artifacts have been subject to competing legal claims since an international team led by oceanographer Robert Ballard found it 24 years ago.

The courtroom survivor is RMS Titanic Inc., also known as RMST, which gathered the artifacts during six dives. Courts have declared it salvor-in-possession — meaning it has exclusive rights to salvage the Titanic — but have explicitly stated it does not own the 5,900 artifacts or the wreck itself.

RMST is a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions Inc., an Atlanta company that bills itself as “a major provider of museum-quality touring exhibitions.” Its offerings include sports memorabilia, a traveling Star Trek homage and “Bodies,” an anatomy exhibit featuring preserved human cadavers.

RMST conducts traveling displays of the Titanic artifacts, which the company says have been viewed by 33 million people worldwide.

Last month, RMST underwent a shakeup of its board and saw its director resign over the company’s poor financial performance, according to Premier Exhibitions filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and statements by dissident shareholders. Smith had expressed concerns before the board shakeup about RMST’s ability to continue properly managing the collection, considering the company’s financial situation.

No one familiar with the case or the artifacts has questioned RMST’s handling of them.

RMST is seeking limited ownership of the artifacts as compensation for its salvage efforts. In its court filing for a salvage award, the company put the fair market value of the collection at $110.9 million. The same filing states that RMST’s costs associated with the recovery and conservation of the artifacts have exceeded revenues from their display.

If the court agrees to RMST’s request, the company could sell the entire collection to a museum with court approval.

Robert W. McFarland, an attorney for RMST, declined to comment before Smith rules.

Smith is drawing upon the State Department and NOAA to help craft the covenants to keep the artifacts preserved, intact as a collection and available to the public, and to guide future salvage operations at the Titanic wreck by RMST. At a hearing in November, the no-nonsense judge made clear the stakes.

“I am concerned that the Titanic is not only a national treasure, but in its own way an international treasure, and it needs protection and it needs to be monitored,” the judge told lawyers in the case.

Congress has expressed its interest in preserving the Titanic as a memorial. U.S. lawmakers have not, however, implemented an agreement with the United Kingdom, which has already embraced a ban on unregulated salvage of the wreck.

J. Ashley Roach, a retired State Department lawyer who worked on the Titanic case, said the Titanic is the first major shipwreck in international waters to receive such close scrutiny.

“You have a domestic court and now the branches of government working together to make sure the wreck itself continues to be available in the future for the public good,” he said.

International protections have been sought for the Titanic almost since the wreck was discovered. Ballard, who led the team that found the ship, told a congressional hearing in October 1985:

“Titanic is like a great pyramid which has been found and mankind is about to enter it for the first time since it was sealed. Has he come to plunder or appreciate? The people of the world clearly want the latter.”

Key dates in the history of the RMS Titanic:

_ April 15, 1912: White Star oceanliner sinks 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland after striking iceberg on maiden voyage. More than 1,500 passengers and crew die.

_ 1916: Oceanic Steam Navigation Co., Titanic’s owner, pays $664,000 to settle all legal claims.

_ Sept. 1, 1985: Titanic wreck discovered by joint expedition, including Robert Ballard, who makes several dives to the site. No artifacts are salvaged.

_ July 1986: Ballard places plaque on Titanic, urging that site be left undisturbed as a memorial. Congress passes RMS Titanic Maritime Memorial Act, a symbolic declaration that the wreck should be left untouched.

_ 1987: Titanic Ventures, a limited partnership, makes 32 dives and recovers 1,800 artifacts, sparking protests. Titanic Ventures sells salvage interests and artifacts to RMS Titanic Inc.

_ July 1993: RMS Titanic recovers 800 artifacts, seeks exclusive salvage rights. As court grants company temporary custody, RMS Titanic, also known as RMST, settles with one of Titanic’s original insurers.

_ June 1994: Court names RMST salvor-in-possession of the Titanic but stresses that it is “not the owner of the artifacts which it recovers from the wreck site.” The court says the company is entitled to a salvage award for its efforts.

_ 1997: Titanic exhibition opens in Memphis, St. Petersburg, Fla., Norfolk, Va., and Hamburg, Germany.

_ July 2000: U.S. District Judge J. Calvitt Clarke in Norfolk, Va., bars RMST from penetrating or cutting into the Titanic.

_ Jan. 31, 2006: 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals orders U.S. District Court to apply the principles of traditional salvage law to the wreck of the Titanic in a manner that serves “the public interest and at the same time provides an appropriate award for the salvor.”

_ July 2007: State Department submits to Congress proposed legislation to implement international agreement with United Kingdom, France and Canada. It is not enacted.

_ Nov. 30, 2007: RMST submits its motion for salvage award, which it estimates at more than $100 million, seeks an “in specie” award — possession of the artifacts themselves.

_ 2009: U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith expected to rule on RMST request.


About Michael L. Grace

MICHAEL L. GRACE is part of the award winning team that created the internationally performed award winning musical SNOOPY, based on PEANUTS by Charles M. Schultz. SNOOPY continues to be one of the most produced shows (amateur & stock) in America/Worldwide and has had long running productions in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and in London's West End. There are over 100 individual productions every year. He has written movies for TV, including the award-winning thriller LADY KILLER, various pilots and developed screenplays for Kevin Costner and John Travolta. Besides co-writing and co-producing SNOOPY, he wrote and produced the one-man play KENNEDY. He produced P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD by pulitzer prize winning author James Kirkwood. He wrote the stage thriller FINAL CUT which had productions in the UK, South Africa and Australia. His one-man play, KENNEDY - THE MAN BEHIND THE MYTH, was developed for HBO and has starred Andrew Stevens, Gregory Harrison and Joseph Bottoms. He has recently been involved in European productions with CLT-UFA, Europe's leading commercial television and radio broadcaster. He wrote MOWs THE DOLL COLLECTION, THE BOTTOM LINE and LAST WITNESS for German television. While in college and graduate school he worked as a foreign correspondent for COMBAT, the famous leftwing Paris daily, and as a travel writer. He visited more than 50 countries. He struggled as an actor, then joined the enemy and entered the training program at William Morris. He became a publicist and worked for Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis Presley's manager, at Paramount and MGM. He followed with a brief stint as a story executive, working in the frantic horror genre period of the early 80s and wrote THE UNSEEN. He went onto write for episodic television and develop series pilots. He was a continuing writer on such series such as LOVE BOAT, PAPER DOLLS, and KNOTS LANDING. He developed screenplays for such major award winning directors as Nicolas Meyers, Tony Richardson and J. Lee Thompson. He has written for all the major networks and studios. He has been hired numerous times as a script doctor, doing many uncredited rewrites on TV movies and features. He is currently writing A PERSON OF INTEREST, a thriller novel, and, IT'S THE LOVE BOAT... AND HOW IT CHANGED CRUISING BY SHIP a non-fiction book dealing with how the hit TV series as a major cultural phenomenon and altered the style of cruising by ship. He was raised in Los Angeles. He attended St. Paul's, USC and the Pasadena Playhouse. He received a B.A from San Francisco State University where he majored in theatre arts and minored in creative writing. He is listed as a SFSU leading alumni. He also apprenticed at ACT - The American Conservatory Theatre. For a brief period he had intentions of becoming an Episcopal(Anglican) priest and attended seminary at Kelham Theological College in the UK. When "the calling" wasn't there, he left seminary and did graduate work at the American University of Beirut. He has guest lectured at USC, UC San Diego, McGill, Univ. of London and the Univ. of Texas on the business aspects of making a living and surviving as a writer, focusing on development hell, in the Hollywood entertainment industry. Grace is a lifetime member of the Writers Guild of America, the Dramatist Guild and former regional chairman of the Steamship Historical Society of America. He resides in Palm Springs.

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