The voice of the Titanic is at risk and a court fight over its retrieval should be handled both carefully and quickly.
The Marconi Wireless Telegraph Machine was a fairly new technology when it was used to send messages — “We require immediate assistance,” “Have struck iceberg and sinking” and “We are putting women off in boats” among them — from the doomed ship after it struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912. The sinking cost the lives of all but about 700 of the Titanic’s 2,208 passengers and crew.
The concerns on both sides of the argument over retrieving the device are legitimate.
RMS Titanic Inc., a private company that is the court-recognized salvor or steward of Titanic artifacts, says time is running out to salvage it. The Marconi Wireless is in a room on the ship’s deck, near a gymnasium whose ceiling has already collapsed, and the roof over the telegraph machine has begun to perforate.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which represents the public’s interest in the wreck site, argues that prior rulings have blocked the firm from cutting holes or taking items from the wreck; the fear is that letting it retrieve the Marconi Wireless will serve as a precedent for further similar incursions.
And Karen Kamuda, president of the Massachusetts-based Titanic Historical Society Inc., says the site should be protected as a gravesite.
U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith of Norfolk, Va., the maritime jurist with jurisdiction over salvage efforts regarding the Titanic, said she needs more details before ruling on RMS Titanic’s request.
While the public has an interest in protecting the Titanic wreck site from being pillaged for private gain, and in guarding the remains of those who perished in the 1912 tragedy, a way should be found to carefully retrieve the ship’s wireless communicator before it is destroyed.
The public has an interest in the history that device represents, and what it can tell us about the final efforts to save the ship and the thousands of people on board. The voice of the Titanic should not be lost because of a drawn-out court fight.