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article imageFate of Titanic’s Treasure Trove Rests in Judge’s Hands

By Sandy Sand     Mar 25, 2009 in World
Like the petulant will-contesting heirs of rich Uncle Carl, deep-sea explorers and a salvage company are fighting over who gets to keep the treasures that were dredged up from the Titanic’s grave in the depths of the North Atlantic.
According to the Associated Press:
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 wrangling began almost the minute a team of deep-sea explorers discovered the world’s most famous shipwreck in 1985, and RMS Titanic, Inc., a salvage company, wants the court to grant it limited ownership of the artifacts.
The article continued:
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.
RMS Titanic, Inc., which gathered artifacts while conducting six dives on the wreck, declared itself “salvor-in-possession,” which translates to finders, keepers, although they admit they have no claim of the ship itself.
Attorney Ole Varmer in the international law office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, which developed guidelines for the Titanic, said:
"For the most part, the value of Titanic is its history — and not from some pile of gold, silver and jewels."
Retired U.S. State Department attorney, J. Ashley Roach, 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.
Roach added:
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."
The United States Congress has expressed interest in preserving the Titanic as a memorial. U.S. lawmakers, however, have not, reached an agreement with the United Kingdom, which has said it endorses a ban on unregulated salvage of the wreck.
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