The company that owns the salvage rights to the Titanic wreck has canceled plans to salvage more artifacts from the site because the leader of the next expedition died in the implosion of the Titanic submersible, according to documents filed Wednesday before a US district court.
The move could impact a looming legal battle between the company and the U.S. government, which is trying to stop the 2024 mission. U.S. lawyers said the company’s initial plans to penetrate the ship’s hull would violate a federal law that considers the wreck a burial site.
Paul-Henri Nargeolet was director of underwater research at RMS Titanic, Inc, the Georgia-based company that recovers and displays artifacts from the Titanic. Nargeolet was lending his expertise to a separate company, OceanGate, when he and four others died during the Titan’s final dive near the Titanic in June.
Before the tragic dive, RMST planned to take images inside and outside the wreck. The company also wanted to recover items from the debris field as well as free-standing objects from the sunken liner.
Nargeolet was supposed to be in charge. The former French naval officer had already carried out 37 dives and oversaw the recovery of around 5,000 items from the Titanic. RMST’s exhibits featured items ranging from silverware to a piece of the ship’s hull.
The company’s initial expedition plan for 2024 also included the possibility of retrieving items from the ship’s famous Marconi Room. It was there that the Titanic’s radio broadcast increasingly frantic distress signals after the liner hit an iceberg.
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The Morse code messages were picked up by other ships and receiving stations on land, helping to save the lives of around 700 people who fled in lifeboats. There were 2,208 passengers and crew on the Titanic’s single voyage from Southampton, England, to New York.
The company said in its court filing Wednesday that its plans now include only imaging of the wreck site and studies to refine “future artifact recovery.”
“Out of respect for PH Nargeolet and his family, as well as the four other people who so recently perished at the site, and their families, the company has decided that recovery of the artifacts would not be appropriate at this time,” the company wrote.
RMST also said it would not send another crewed submersible to the Titanic until “further investigation is conducted into the cause of the (OceanGate) tragedy.” The US Coast Guard is investigating the Titan’s implosion.
Meanwhile, it’s unclear what impact this change in plans might have on RMST’s burgeoning legal battle with the U.S. government. The company’s filing appears to suggest it no longer plans to enter the ship’s hull, which the government says would break the law.
A hearing was still scheduled for Friday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, Virginia, which oversees Titanic salvage cases.
“Today’s filing underscores that we take our responsibilities seriously,” RMST CEO Jessica Sanders said in a statement.
“In light of the OceanGate tragedy, the loss of our dear colleague Paul-Henri ‘PH’ Nargeolet and the ongoing investigation, we have chosen to modify our previous file to only carry out work for the moment unmanned imaging and survey technology,” she said. .
Lawyers for the U.S. government did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
The lawsuit hinges on federal law and an agreement between the United States and Britain to treat the Titanic wreck as a memorial to the more than 1,500 people who died.
In August, the United States argued in court filings that entry into the Titanic’s severed hull — or the physical alteration or disturbance of the wreck — was regulated by law and by the agreement with the Great Britain. -Brittany. Among the government’s concerns was the possible disruption of artifacts and any human remains that may still exist.
The company has not directly responded to the government’s claims in court. But in previous cases, RMST has challenged the constitutionality of U.S. efforts to “undermine” its rights to salvage a wreck in international waters. The firm argued that only the Norfolk court has jurisdiction and points to centuries of precedent in maritime law.
In a court filing earlier this year, RMST said it did not intend to seek government permission for its initial shipping plans. But those plans have changed.
The company said it “will not recover any artifacts at this time, nor conduct other activities that would physically alter or disrupt the wreck,” the company wrote Wednesday.