Expedition To Salvage Titanic’s Wireless Telegraph Gets The Go-Ahead

Vanessa Romo,

Angie Wang AP

A judge in Virginia has ruled that a salvage company may cut into the remains of the Titanic to retrieve the ship's wireless telegraph machine. Artifacts from the sunken vessel are sit on shelves at a storage facility in Atlanta in this Feb. 18 photo.

In the final hours it took the R.M.S. Titanic to sink, wireless telegraph operators issued a series of increasingly frantic messages calling for rescue.

They went from detailed to desperate.

The last transmission — issued just a few minutes before the “unsinkable” ship disappeared below the surface of the North Atlantic after striking an iceberg — was just five words: “Come quick. Engine room nearly full.”

The messages offer a poignant record of the final moments of chaos and tragedy aboard the Titanic in April 1912.

And this week a federal judge ruled that the wireless telegraph set may be recovered from the wreckage.

U.S. Judge Rebecca Smith said retrieval of the Edwardian technology — the most advanced of its time — “will contribute to the legacy left by the indelible loss of the Titanic, those who survived, and those who gave their lives in the sinking,” the Associated Press reported.

The decision is a victory for RMS Titanic Inc., a private company with exclusive rights to salvage artifacts from the ship. It has been waging a decades-long legal battle to gain the right to extract the equipment and other artifacts from the ship.

In 2000, an earlier judge denied the company permission to cut into the shipwreck or detach any part of it. But Smith appeared swayed by RMST’s argument that remnants of the luxurious vessel are rapidly deteriorating.

“While many items that remain in and around the Titanic wreckage have the ability to enlighten generations on the lives of its passengers, only one item holds the story of all of the survivors,” Bretton Hunchak, president of the company said in a statement on Facebook.

He added that the system “remains an unsung hero, responsible for countless generations of families that exist only because the radio cried out on behalf of their ancestors. For that reason, we must recover this incredible piece of history, to rescue the radio that saved 705 lives from being taken from the world that fateful night.”

Many archeologists and preservationists oppose the project, saying it desecrates what is a grave for the 1,500 crew and passengers who died on the ship’s maiden voyage.

RMST has two working plans for retrieving the telegraph. The first would involve using a remotely operated vehicle to enter Titanic through a skylight over the room where the machine is held. The second would require cutting a hole into the hull.

Smith’s Monday decision includes some conditions. Most notably that the court must approve the company’s funding plan “to ensure that RMST not only has the money to raise the artifacts, but also to conserve and document them,” according to National Geographic.

After years of financial strife, the salvage company recently emerged from bankruptcy and is under new ownership.

RMST is planning the expedition to Titanic this summer.

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