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Legal Bombshell: Submarine Struck the Titanic Wreck and Didn’t Report It

Ian Harvey
Submarine (not the one that hit Titanic)
Submarine (not the one that hit Titanic)

A small submarine that was gathering footage of the Titanic inadvertently struck it, court docs reveal. The Titanic became famous in April, 1912, as a floating tribute to splendor and wealth, a ship that catered to almost every whim of the rich patrons who booked passage on its inaugural voyage to New York.  The vessel soon became infamous, however, when it failed to avoid a massive iceberg directly in its path, and after the collision the ship sank within hours.

Titanic Southampton

Titanic at Southampton docks, prior to departure

The Titanic is at the center of a storm once again, this one playing out in a Virginia courtroom. It began last July, when a diving crew in a submarine shooting footage of the Titanic for a documentary collided with the wreck, which is resting about 350 miles south of Newfoundland, at the murky bottom of the Atlantic. Those on one side say the crew failed to report damage done to the ship’s hull; those on the opposing side say it was not their responsibility to report anything to anyone.

Titanic wreck

The bow of the wrecked Titanic, photographed in June 2004

Rights to anything from the ship rest with RMS Titanic, (RMST) a salvage operation out of Atlanta, Georgia. They claim that the two-person submarine that hit the vessel did not report the incident, and consequently the wreck has undergone even greater damage.

EYOS Expeditions is the company that was filming underwater in the submarine video for a Titanic documentary. They insist that reporting the matter was not their responsibility, because a representative of RMST was on the expedition and knew of the incident. That person, they say, should have informed their superiors of what occurred.

Robert Ballard Titanic

Robert Ballard giving a talk on his Titanic discovery. Photo by Erik Charlton CC by 2.0

“We did accidentally make contact with the Titanic once while we were near the starboard hull breach, a big piece of the hull that sticks out,” acknowledged Rob McCallum, head of the expedition, in an interview with the Telegraph recently. But his company does not agree that they caused any harm to the decaying wreck, insisting in the interview that “while underwater, it’s (the submersible) essentially weightless — it’s not a battering ram.”

There is a further sticking point in the legal battle. The Titanic falls under the protection of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA) a federal agency that preserves and protects it. They are against RMST’s stated goal of accessing the ship; thus far, only relics around the site have been allowed to be retrieved.

Titanic

The Titanic’s final plunge.

RMST says in court filings that, in particular, it wants to remove a 108-year old Marconi wireless telegraph machine from the site, and that the time to do so successfully is running out. But the NOAA is opposed to this, so the two sides will face off in court soon.

RMST is also casting aspersions on NOAA’s suitability as protector of the Titanic, arguing that, because the agency had a representative on the expedition, they should have informed the wrecking company of the incident, but did not. The fact that they failed “to inform RMST and the Court for nearly five months raises a series of troubling issues,” the company said in a statement.

EYOS is a British expedition company based in the Isle of Man, and is the first to get close to the Titanic in more than 14 years. RMST is asking the court that they be directed to hand over any video shot during the collision, but so far ETOS is resisting the request. This matter, too, will be decided in court.

A spokesman for NOAA told the Telegraph, “The NOAA takes its role in protecting the Titanic very seriously…NOAA first learned (of the accident) through EYOS’ report…(we) reminded EYOS legal counsel of (their) obligation to provide a copy of the report to the Court and RMST, which EYOS did on January 8th, 2020.”

Related Article: Controversy Erupts Over Plan to go Down and Remove Titanic’s “Voice”

If RMST wins the day and is allowed to go on board the Titanic to retrieve the wireless telegraph machine, other treasures from the ship may ultimately find their way to the surface, too. But first comes the legal battle, and it’s impossible to predict which way the court will rule.