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Photo 51: Starboard railing.
(NOAA Photo Library.)
1. Is the United States Department of Commerce, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), concerned about all of the planned visits to the wreck site of R.M.S. Titanic on the 100th Anniversary?
The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 15, 2012, is expected to bring an unprecedented amount of commercial shipping traffic to the wreck site. In addition to the numerous cruise ships scheduled to visit the area, several submersible expeditions have been announced that will dive to the wreck site. These activities, along with others that may disturb the wreck site, highlight the need for action to protect the site’s archeological integrity and ensure that it is treated as a maritime memorial to the 1,500 people who perished when the Titanic sank. NOAA, the National Park Service and the United States Coast Guard prepared a letter that United States Coast Guard Vice Admiral Brian Salerno sent to the Secretary General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on January 25, 2012, requesting the issuance of a non-binding circular advising vessels to refrain from discharging any garbage, waste or effluent in a 10 square mile zone above the wreck. The letter also requests submersibles to avoid landing on the Titanic’s deck, to concentrate any drop weights on ascent in specific areas away from hull portions, and to refrain from placing plaques or other permanent memorials on the wreck (however well-intentioned). On January 31, 2012, the IMO issued a circular alerting member governments of the United States request and asking them to take action as appropriate in response (MEPC.1/Circ.779). NOAA in consultation and cooperation with its Federal agency partners will continue to work to protect and preserve the Titanic wreck site as a maritime memorial.
2. What is NOAA’s role regarding Titanic?
Since the discovery of the wreck site in 1985, NOAA has been involved in protecting and preserving the site in some capacity, from participating in exploration and scientific missions to negotiating international agreements. In 1985, Congress recognized the shipwreck as a site of "national and international cultural and historical significance" in need of international protection and enacted the R.M.S. Titanic Maritime Memorial Act of 1986 (1986 Act), signed by President Reagan. The 1986 Act encouraged NOAA and the United States Department of State to (1) negotiate an international agreement (International Agreement) to protect Titanic; and (2) develop international guidelines (NOAA Guidelines) for exploration, research, and, if determined appropriate, salvage. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia recognized the public interest in Titanic and NOAA’s role in overseeing activities of the salvor, R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. NOAA has designated its Office of General Counsel and its Office of National Marine Sanctuaries to implement the Court’s directives.
Today, the United States Departments of Justice, State, and Commerce (primarily through NOAA), and other interested federal agencies continue work to:
3. What is the status of the draft legislation proposed to implement the International Agreement Concerning the Shipwrecked Vessel R.M.S. Titanic and the surrounding wreck site?
The United States Departments of State and Commerce and other interested agencies are working with Congress to protect R.M.S. Titanic from looting and unscientific salvage and to preserve R.M.S. Titanic for present and future generations. In particular, NOAA is working with Congress to: 1) implement the International Agreement, including the recognition of the wreck as a maritime memorial, and provide the authority to ensure that it continues to be respected as the resting place of those who lost their lives in its sinking; 2) prohibit potentially harmful activities directed at R.M.S. Titanic; 3) establish a permitting system to manage any research, exploration, recovery or salvage of R.M.S. Titanic; 4) require the application of current professional standards of scientific and archaeological resource management to ensure that R.M.S. Titanic is properly preserved and conserved for present and future generations; and 5) create an Advisory Council to make recommendations to the Secretary of Commerce regarding the protection and long-term management of the wreck site, as well as the conservation and curation of any artifacts recovered. For further information please contact Ole Varmer of NOAA’s Office of General Counsel by email or phone: (202) 482-1402.
4. What are the next steps for Congress to pass the proposed legislation?
In March 2012, Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) introduced legislation, co-sponsored by Senator Isakson (R-Georgia), which would amend the 1986 Act to protect the wreck site of the Titanic from salvage and intrusive research. According to Sen. Kerry, the R.M.S. Titanic Maritime Memorial Preservation Act of 2012 (Senate Bill 2279) would: (1) amend the 1986 Act by providing the United States Department of Commerce with the authority to protect the Titanic wreck site from salvage and intrusive research; (2) provide authority to monitor and enforce specific scientific rules to protect the public’s interest in the wreck site and collection; and (3) propose the establishment of a Titanic Advisory Council, modeled on advisory councils previously established under the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. The bill was referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation on March 29, 2012. Also in March 2012, representatives from NOAA, United States Department of State, and the United States Coast Guard met with staff from the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure to provide answers to questions and technical drafting assistance on a draft bill to implement the International Agreement. On July 31, 2012, the bill was passed by the Commerce Committee and is now ready for a vote by the full Senate. The Congressional Budget Office has scored the bill and on November 2, 2012, reported that S.2279 would have no significant impact on the federal budget.
5. How does the proposed legislation, in particular Senate Bill 2279, address activities of surface ships in deploying remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) to search for and retrieve artifacts, assuming these ships and their personnel are not nationals of, nor financed by nationals of, the signatory countries? Would it prevent an American national from paying, say, a Russian entity to do retrieval work?
As indicated above, the proposed legislation implements a jurisdictional approach that is consistent with international law. Thus, it does not assert jurisdiction over the activities of foreign nationals on foreign- flagged vessels operating on the high seas outside of the United States Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). However, a foreign-flagged vessel or national may be subject to United States law if the foreign nation consents or when the vessel or national consents to be subject to United States law by entering into a United States port (i.e., port State jurisdiction). Of particular importance in this context would be prohibitions in Senate Bill 2279, Section 6(4), where it is unlawful to: "sell, purchase, barter, import, export, or offer to sell, purchase, barter, import, export, in interstate or foreign commerce, R.M.S. Titanic property not constituting a collection." If these acts are conducted in the United States, then the prohibitions could be enforced against foreign nationals and vessels as well as United States vessels and nationals. Also, if this proposed legislation became United States law, then it would apply to an American national even if the prohibited activity was conducted on a foreign-flagged vessel at the wreck site.
6. What specific evidence has been offered to NOAA of human remains being present at the wreck site and in the ship’s hull?
Organic material associated with R.M.S. Titanic that has been exposed to the marine environment most likely deteriorated by the 1940s, with the exception of treated organic material, such as tanned leathers used in boots or suitcases. Thus, the debris field is devoid of human remains, and only contains personal effects. Interior spaces of the hull, especially the intact bow section, even if flooded during the sinking process, may not be exposed to the current outside environment. These types of isolated environments create a condition of stasis where constant pressure, low temperatures, no flow, and anoxic water levels have been known to preserve organic matter for centuries.
7. Does the legislation, in particular Senate Bill 2279, propose to prohibit artifact removal except as authorized by NOAA? If so, how would this affect R.M.S. Titanic, Inc., the present legal salvor-in-possession?
Yes, Senate Bill 2279 proposes to prohibit a number of activities, except as authorized by a permit issued by the United States Department of Commerce, NOAA. (See Sections 6 and 7). The proposed legislation contemplates that the U.S. District Court will continue to determine the rights of the salvor-in-possession, R.M.S. Titanic, Inc., under maritime law of salvage consistent with the International Agreement. The proposed legislation does not prevent R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. from recovering additional artifacts. It does, however, require that the recovery be conducted in accordance with the law, including a NOAA permit, to ensure the recovery is consistent with the International Agreement and implementing legislation.
In accordance with a prior request of R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. submitted to the 109th Congress, the proposed legislation expressly addresses its rights under salvage law. Senate Bill 2279 states, "Without prejudice to the orders of a United States Court of competent jurisdiction, issued in reference to the entity known as ‘RMS Titanic, Inc.’, prior to the effective date of this legislation (the status of such orders to be unaffected by this legislation), no person may obtain salvage rights to R.M.S. Titanic or R.M.S. Titanic property, after the effective date of this Act, except by an assignment or transfer of existing rights or through the orders of a United States Court of competent jurisdiction issued in reference to the entity known as ‘RMS Titanic, Inc.’)."
8. What scientific evidence has been offered to NOAA that R.M.S. Titanic’s deterioration is the result of submarine visits and human activities, rather than bacteriological degradation, metallurgical decay and/or the effects of electrolysis in salt water, the expected aging of more than 100-year-old steel or other natural causes?
When examining shipwrecks, NOAA considers all aspects of deterioration, including biological, chemical and physical processes. In the case of R.M.S. Titanic, NOAA has maintained that all three processes currently impact the site. Examples of each include, but are not limited to: biological deterioration through rusticle growth; chemical deterioration through electrolysis; and physical deterioration through underwater vehicles coming into contact with the wreck site.
9. What effect, if any, would the legislation have on the movement into and out of the United States of previously retrieved artifacts for exhibition purposes?
As indicated above, the prohibited activities may apply to artifacts being moved in and out of the country that do not constitute a collection (see Senate Bill 2279, Section 6(d)). This prohibition was primarily developed to codify United States Federal Admiralty Court orders prohibiting the sale of individual artifacts and requiring that the collection stay together. However, in response to a request from R.M.S. Titanic Inc., the definition of "collection" has been revised so that the definition also recognizes collections authorized by foreign governments. As such, this would include the collection created by the award (French Award) made by the Government of France for certain artifacts salvaged in 1987.
10. When and by whom will hearings occur on this legislation? Are the hearings open to the public?
Legislative calendars for the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate, which include hearing schedules, are determined by Congress, not NOAA.
11. Does the proposed legislation contain a loophole in regard to salvage by persons who are from nations that are not party to the International Agreement?
The proposed legislation maximizes the jurisdiction and authority that the United States may assert over party and non-party foreign persons to the extent recognized under current international law. For example, the unauthorized sale or trafficking of artifacts in the United States may be enforced against persons that are from nations that are not party to the International Agreement. Of course, no nation — other than the flag state — has jurisdiction over foreign persons on foreign-flagged vessels located in international waters. The absence of the assertion of United States jurisdiction over foreign vessels and persons in international waters is not a loophole in the legislation but rather reflects respect for the law of nations. To assert United States jurisdiction over foreign persons in international waters would be inappropriate and inconsistent with international law. Under Article 4 of the International Agreement on R.M.S. Titanic, the parties agree to regulate the activities of persons and vessels subject to the jurisdiction and authority of respective parties. Consistent with the International Agreement, and the scope of other laws, jurisdiction and authority in the proposed legislation is appropriately focused on activities conducted by United States citizens and United States-flagged vessels, as well as others subject to United States jurisdiction (e.g., foreigners visiting the United States or vessels located in the United States territorial sea and EEZ). Finally, it is important to note that the exercise of jurisdiction and authority under the proposed legislation is far greater than that which the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia sitting in Admiralty may currently exercise and enforce. At present, the Court’s jurisdiction in terms of R.M.S. Titanic is limited to R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. (RMST), the current salvor-in-possession. The Court and RMST are unable to prevent salvage by other persons unless such persons become subject to the in personam jurisdiction of the Court.
12. Given the wreck site’s remoteness, how would the wreck site be monitored? Was such monitoring in effect in 2002 when a British-flagged vessel not authorized by R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. visited the wreck site and allegedly retrieved artifacts?
The wreck site’s remoteness and its depth make it very difficult and challenging to monitor. There are, however, a number of options including the use of remote sensing equipment. One of the options that has been studied is surveillance using satellites.
The U.S. District Court directed RMST, as the custodian of the wreck site, to investigate reports of an interloper looting or conducting unauthorized salvage of the wreck. RMST in turn contacted NOAA and the United States Department of State for assistance on this matter. As a result, NOAA used existing satellite information to determine if data acquired in the area could facilitate monitoring and enforcement. The United States Department of State requested that the United Kingdom investigate a vessel that was subject to its jurisdiction as a flag state. Problems, however, were encountered because the United States had not signed the International Agreement at the time.
13. Was the proposed legislation developed based on the assumption that human remains still exist within R.M.S. Titanic’s hull and that it is not rapidly deteriorating because of environmental conditions including high currents?
The provisions in the proposed legislation and International Agreement limiting salvage or recovery to artifacts in the debris field and protecting the two large hull portions from disturbance are largely based on orders of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia sitting in Admiralty, the business plans of RMST, and provisions in the 1986 Act recognizing the wreck site of R.M.S. Titanic as a maritime memorial. More than 1,500 men, women and children lost their lives when R.M.S. Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, and a large number of those lost were likely trapped in the ship’s hull. This tragic loss of life and the encasement of the remains of many passengers and crew in the hull sections have caused many people around the world, including descendants of R.M.S. Titanic’s passengers and crew, to view the shipwreck as a grave site. Assumptions about the existence of human remains do not appear to have been significant factors in relevant provisions of the 1986 Act; nor were they factors in the development of the International Agreement, the NOAA "Guidelines for Research, Exploration and Salvage of R.M.S. Titanic,"(66 Fed. Reg. 18905-18913 (April 12, 2001)), and proposed legislation. While the NOAA Guidelines’ provisions may be consistent with an in situ preservation approach to management, it is important to understand that in situ preservation is more of a scientific approach or methodology than a decision about the ultimate disposition of a site.
The Annexed Rules of the Agreement and the NOAA Guidelines for Research, Exploration and Salvage of R.M.S. Titanic," 66 Fed. Reg. 18905-18913 (April 12, 2001), which are in line with the 1986 Act, set forth detailed information on artifact recovery. The preamble to the Federal Register notice includes responses to comments including an explanation of in situ preservation, analysis of how it works under the NOAA Guidelines, and examination of how it is a scientific precautionary approach for protecting the wreck site and assisting in decision making about if-and-when salvage or recovery is necessary or appropriate.
14. Why does NOAA prefer in situ preservation over artifact recovery and conservation? Why has in situ preservation policy resulted in artifact recovery in the case of the NOAA-sponsored expeditions to the U.S.S. Monitor, where remains of some of the men have been found? Why is R.M.S. Titanic the sole subject of these rules whereby the presumed existence of human remains results in in situ preservation?
In situ preservation does not preclude intrusive research, exploration or appropriate salvage. Consistent with a precautionary management approach, once there is a scientific, cultural, or educational justification, then research, exploration, or appropriate salvage activities may be permitted. The Annexed Rules and NOAA Guidelines were developed for the implementation of plans for intrusive research, salvage, or recovery. To fulfill the public interest in R.M.S. Titanic under salvage law and the 1986 Act, such salvage should only be conducted in accordance with the scientific and conservation standards set forth in the proposed legislation, International Agreement, and NOAA Guidelines.
The proposed legislation, International Agreement, and NOAA Guidelines provide that in situ preservation is the preferred policy approach for memorializing and conserving R.M.S. Titanic. This approach is consistent with widely accepted international and domestic professional archaeological standards and embodies the broader public interest in conservation of R.M.S. Titanic. Under this policy, non-intrusive research and exploration of R.M.S. Titanic is encouraged in order to protect the wreck site for future research and access. The public interest in R.M.S. Titanic is diverse. Congress and others view the site as a maritime memorial, a grave site, and an underwater museum and laboratory. The hull and cargo can be seen as a time capsule of a tragic event and a snapshot of another historical period. Because intrusive activities may damage or destroy R.M.S. Titanic, these restrictions on disturbance support the presumption that such activities should not be conducted unless justified by scientific, cultural, or educational interests. This in situ preservation policy is compatible with non-destructive uses of the site, such as non-intrusive research, education, public viewing, and even commercial use. This policy is also consistent with the treatment of R.M.S. Titanic as the final resting place for many people, and the conservation of the surrounding natural environment. In situ preservation has been incorporated into the International Agreement, NOAA Guidelines, and proposed legislation to protect R.M.S. Titanic, but such actions will not necessarily preclude the continued salvage of artifacts in the debris field. This is consistent with NOAA’s application of the in situ preservation approach in regards to the U.S.S. Monitor. At the U.S.S. Monitor site, artifacts have been periodically recovered over the last several decades. Perhaps most notably, when the science and public interest in recovery of portions of the vessel was well established, the turret, engine, and other artifacts were removed. The existence of human remains on a wreck site are, of course, an important issue to be considered, but should be done on a case-by case basis and not, in itself, dictate whether there should be recovery or salvage. Unlike the R.M.S. Titanic, the U.S.S. Monitor has not been designated as a maritime memorial by an international instrument. As indicated above, the wreck site of R.M.S. Titanic was designated as a maritime memorial in the Agreement in part because the loss of life is such an integral part of why the site became historic and even iconic. The historical and cultural significance of the U.S.S. Monitor is based on its design, construction, and its place in naval history. The loss of life on U.S.S. Monitor is no less tragic, but does not relate to the place of the U.S.S. Monitor in history and culture. A better analogy to the R.M.S. Titanic is the wreck site of the U.S.S. Arizona, a site which is also tied closely to the tragic loss of life of more than 1,000 individuals.
15. Russia and Japan have submersibles capable of reaching R.M.S. Titanic. What provisions in the proposed legislation regulate their submersibles’ activities at the R.M.S. Titanic wreck site?
Under international law, nations, such as the United States, do not have the jurisdiction and authority to regulate the activities of foreign-flagged vessels operating outside of their nation’s Territorial Sea and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). As the R.M.S. Titanic wreck site is well outside the United States’ EEZ, it would not be appropriate for the United States to assert jurisdiction over foreign-flagged vessels including submersibles. However, the proposed legislation does maximize the jurisdiction and authority available to the United States consistent with international law, including port State jurisdiction, flag State jurisdiction and persons over which the United States may exercise jurisdiction consistent with international law. For example, it provides express authority over foreign-flagged vessels if the foreign nation consents (see Senate Bill 2279, Section 5 Scope and Applicability).
16. How and why did the 1986 Act become law?
In response to the discovery of one of the most famous and well-known shipwrecks in the world – the Titanic – Congress saw the need for legislation that would properly protect the integrity of the ship, while allowing all interested parties, from relatives of victims to scientists and naval architects, to benefit from its historic discovery. According to House Report 99-393 (November 21, 1985), Congress was especially concerned with the potential harm to the wreck site that salvagers might cause. Until an international agreement could be negotiated, Congress did not want any person to physically alter, disturb, or salvage the Titanic.
Nearly identical bills addressing these concerns were introduced in the House of Representatives on September 11, 1985 (HR 3272), and in the Senate on February 5, 1986 (S. 2048). Both chambers ultimately passed the Senate version of the bill, which was subsequently signed into law by President Reagan on October 21, 1986. Thus, the 1986 Act was enacted to encourage recognition of the wreck as a maritime memorial to those who lost their lives when it sank, to promote the development of an international agreement providing for the protection of the wreck, and to cultivate internationally recognized guidelines for research, exploration and, if appropriate, salvage activities.
17. Who were the champions of the 1986 Act?
Rep. Walter Jones, Sr. (D-NC), who was a major proponent for the designation of the wreck site of the U.S.S. Monitor as the first National Marine Sanctuary, was also instrumental in the passage of the 1986 Act. Rep. Jones championed the House bill through nearly every step of the legislative process: he introduced the House bill, he chaired the hearing in the House Merchant Marine and Fisheries Committee’s Subcommittee on Oceanography, he shepherded the bill through the full Committee, and saw to its passage in the House of Representatives. Ultimately, Rep. Jones, with help from Rep. Norman Shumway (R-CA), successfully advocated before the House for the passage of the nearly identical Senate version of the bill. In the Senate, Sen. Lowell Weicker, Jr. (R-CT) introduced and successfully argued for its passage.
18. Which members of Congress supported the Titanic legislation?
The 1986 Act received bipartisan support, passing by voice vote in both the House and the Senate.
Cosponsors of the bill in the House of Representatives included: Rep. Norman Lent (R-NY), ranking minority member of the House Committee on Merchant Marine and Fisheries; Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY); Rep. Thomas Carper (D-DE); Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-NY); Rep. Gerry Studds (D-MA); Rep. Mike Lowry (D-WA); Rep. William Hughes (D-NJ); Rep. Barbara Mikulsky (D-MD); Rep. Edward Boland (D-MA); Rep. Charles Price (D-IL); Rep. Anthony Beilenson (D-CA); Rep. Dennis Hertell (D-MI); Rep. Robert Matsui (D-CA); Rep. Helen Bentley (R-MD); Rep. Thomas Manton (D-NY); Rep. Berkley Bedell (D-IA); Rep. Ted Weiss (D-NY); Rep. Robert Borski (D-PA); Rep. Robert Dornan (R-CA); and Rep. Charles Whitley, Sr. (D-NC). Sen. Clairborne Pell (D-RI) cosponsored the bill in the Senate, and the bill was passed by a voice vote in which Sen. Lowell Weicker Jr. (R-CT) was the sole speaker.
19. What are the purposes of the 1986 Act?
The purposes of the 1986 Act are to: (1) encourage international efforts to designate R.M.S. Titanic as an international maritime memorial to those who lost their lives aboard the ship in 1912; (2) direct the United States to enter into negotiations with other interested nations to establish an international agreement that provides for designation of R.M.S. Titanic as an international maritime memorial, and protects the scientific, cultural, and historical significance of R.M.S. Titanic; (3) encourage, in those negotiations or in other fora, the development and implementation of international guidelines for conducting research on, exploration of, and if appropriate, salvage of R.M.S. Titanic; and (4) express the sense of the United States Congress that, pending such international agreement or guidelines, no person should physically alter, disturb, or salvage R.M.S. Titanic.
20. Are other foreign governments and international organizations involved?
Yes. The United States government negotiated an Agreement to protect the Titanic with France, Canada, and the United Kingdom. The United States continues to discuss Titanic-related issues with Canada and the United Kingdom. In addition, the United States conducts education and outreach on Titanic at international meetings. Most recently, NOAA, the National Park Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard prepared a letter sent by the Vice Admiral of the Coast Guard to the IMO, requesting the issuance of a non-binding circular advising vessels to refrain from discharging garbage, waste or effluent in a 10-square mile zone above the wreck. On January 31, 2012, the IMO issued a circular alerting member governments of the U.S. request and asking them to take action as appropriate in response (MEPC.1/Circ.779).
21. Canada and France have not ratified this Agreement. Must all four countries (United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and France) ratify it for it to become effective?
No, the Agreement enters into force when two parties sign and agree to be bound under international law. The United Kingdom ratified the Agreement on November 6, 2003, implementing it through Order 2003 No. 2496, which comes into force on the date on which the International Agreement enters into force in respect of the United Kingdom.
22. Have there been any negotiations with Japan or Russia to formally bring them under the Agreement’s provisions?
Representatives of the United States (United States Department of State and NOAA) have informed Japan, Russia, and other nations of the Agreement and of the United States’ interest in having other nations join the Agreement. To date, however, this has not resulted in any negotiations. Upon the enactment of domestic implementing legislation and the resulting entry into force of the Agreement, the United States Department of State and NOAA plan to increase the level of outreach to other nations, particularly Japan, Russia, and other nations with deep water technology.
23. What was the United States position at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage (UNESCO UCH Convention) regarding regulation of wreck hunters outside of territorial waters?
From the outset of the UNESCO UCH Convention negotiations, the United States supported the regulation or control of activities directed at underwater cultural heritage in all of the maritime zones in a manner consistent with international law as reflected in the Law of the Sea Convention (LOSC). As such, coastal State jurisdiction was limited to UCH in internal waters, the 12 nm territorial sea, and the 24 nm contiguous zone. In terms of UCH on the continental shelf and EEZ, the United States was concerned about "creeping jurisdiction" of coastal States, but specifically supported the use of existing provisions of the LOSC regarding jurisdiction and authority over natural resources to indirectly protect UCH. As to UCH in the Area beyond the continental shelves of all states, the United States supported the use of flag State jurisdiction and other jurisdiction consistent with the LOSC. The jurisdictional approach agreed to by the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Canada under the International Agreement is consistent with the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and was suggested as a model for protecting UCH on the continental shelf and EEZ without raising concerns of coastal State "creeping jurisdiction."
24. Why has it taken so long for this Agreement and proposed legislation to be considered by Congress if the R.M.S. Titanic Maritime Memorial Act was passed in 1986?
There are a number of reasons it has taken so long to negotiate the Agreement and develop the proposed implementing legislation. In sum, it was a combination of eight factors including delayed interest in negotiation, litigation, and a lengthy, thorough, deliberative process in negotiating the Agreement as well as in developing the legislation. Following the enactment of the 1986 Act, France, the United Kington, and Canada did not express immediate interest in negotiating an international agreement called for in the 1986 Act. The 1995 Greenwich Conference sponsored by the British National Museum was the first forum where countries other than the United States expressed an interest in negotiating an agreement to protect R.M.S. Titanic. It took four years to negotiate the Agreement. After that the United States Department of State and NOAA were sued by RMST to prevent the United States from signing and implementing the International Agreement and NOAA Guidelines. After the suit was dismissed, NOAA published proposed Guidelines and ultimately final Guidelines in 2000. The United States subsequently signed the International Agreement in 2004 after lengthy deliberations with France and the other parties over the French translation of the Agreement. In signing the International Agreement, the United States made clear that the United States could not consent to be bound until implementing legislation was enacted by Congress and signed by the President. It took two years of a lengthy but comprehensive interagency deliberative process to develop proposed legislation that was submitted to the 109th Congress which did not act upon the legislation. The United States Department of State recently submitted similar legislation to the 110th and 112th Congresses after additional process and deliberations to address comments and concerns of RMST as well as some clarifications to address concerns within the Administration.
Below is a more detailed background and history of the negotiation of the International Agreement and NOAA Guidelines which is based on information published in the preamble of the Federal Register (65 Fed. Reg. 35326-35331, June 2, 2000).
In 1986, the United States Department of State contacted the referenced nations regarding the development of international guidelines and an international agreement. Despite the continued international interest in R.M.S. Titanic, other countries exhibited little interest in developing international guidelines or an agreement. In 1995, the United Kingdom, France, Canada and the United States initiated talks on negotiating guidelines and an agreement. The initiation of international discussion on the guidelines and agreement, at least in part, was based on information about the commercial salvage of R.M.S. Titanic and the exhibition of recovered artifacts in the British National Maritime Museum.
In February 1995, the British National Maritime Museum sponsored a conference of experts in the fields of law, archaeology, history, science, and salvage in Greenwich, England to discuss the protection and management of R.M.S. Titanic and other historic shipwrecks. Participants presented papers and discussions were held regarding the differences in approach between archaeologists and salvors, the Law of the Sea, the UCH Convention, prepared by the International Law Association, and the practices of various nations with respect to the protection and management of UCH.
In January 1996, the British National Maritime Museum held a second conference at the IMO in London, England. The conference resulted in a statement of principle, called the Greenwich Declaration, concerning the management of UCH. The significance of UCH to humankind was recognized, as was the threat of its irrevocable loss unless its disturbance or removal is conducted in accordance with best archaeological practices and under the supervision of national authorities having jurisdiction over such activities. While R.M.S. Titanic was an impetus for the conferences, the focus was to provide protection for all UCH. The preparation of an international instrument by UNESCO for the protection of UCH was discussed as was the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) International Charter on the Protection and Management of Underwater Cultural Heritage. At both conferences there were also informal discussions on the international agreement and guidelines for research on, exploration of, and if determined appropriate, salvage of R.M.S. Titanic. Delegations representing the Governments of Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and the United States conducted negotiations between 1997 and 2000 in London and by video-conference to develop the text of an international agreement to protect R.M.S. Titanic. Specifically, negotiations were held on September 29 and December 1, 1997; February 12, 1998; January 12, June 18, and December 2, 1999; and January 5, 2000.
25. The draft Titanic Senate Bill 2279 makes reference to the International Agreement "signed on June 18, 2004, subject to acceptance by the United States." What constitutes "acceptance by the United States" and has that happened?
Acceptance, like ratification, is a way in which countries indicate their willingness to be bound by an international agreement. In this case, the United States signed the International Agreement subject to "acceptance" because the United States reserves "ratification" for instances of treaties in which the Executive branch obtains the advice and consent of the Senate.
The acceptance of the United States has not occurred. Acceptance is contingent upon authorization from Congress to carry out the obligations under the International Agreement through the enactment of legislation. After the enactment of legislation from Congress providing the Executive branch authority to implement the agreement, the United States Department of State would let the United Kingdom know that it accepts the responsibility to be bound by the International Agreement.
26. Is the International Agreement on the Titanic a treaty or an executive agreement? What is the difference between the two?
The International Agreement is an executive agreement. Thus, the advice and consent of the Senate to ratification is not required; however, implementing legislation is necessary for the Agreement to come into effect in the United States.
There are two procedures under domestic law through which the United States becomes a party to an international agreement: (1) "Treaties" are international agreements (regardless of their title, designation, or form) whose entry into force with respect to the United States takes place only after two-thirds of the United States Senate has given its advice and consent under Article II, section 2, Clause 2 of the Constitution; (2) "International agreements other than treaties" (often referred to as "executive agreements") are international agreements brought into force with respect to the United States on a constitutional basis other than with the advice and consent of the Senate. Treaties and executive agreements are binding international obligations of the United States government, regardless of their domestic designation, and have the effect of law in the U.S.
There are two types of executive agreements: (1) Sole executive agreements, and (2) congressional-executive agreements. A sole executive agreement is negotiated by the President and put into legal effect on the basis of his inherent authority as chief executive of the nation and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Sole executive agreements are generally reserved for specific agreements with another State on a matter that does not affect the broad interests of the nation. A congressional-executive agreement is based on authority granted by Congress to the president in a joint resolution of both Houses or by statute. Since executive agreements are made on the authority of the incumbent president, they do not necessarily bind his successors.
27. What are the overall principles of the NOAA Guidelines?
28. Why were the Guidelines for Research, Exploration and Salvage of R.M.S. Titanic developed by NOAA?
The NOAA Guidelines are intended to advise the planning and conduct of activities aimed at R.M.S. Titanic, including exploration, research, and if appropriate, salvage. These final guidelines were issued by NOAA under the authority of the 1986 Act. Section 5(a) of the Act directs the NOAA to enter into consultations with the United Kingdom, France, Canada and others to develop international guidelines for research on, exploration of, and if appropriate, salvage of R.M.S. Titanic. The guidelines are to (1) be consistent with the national and international scientific, cultural, and historical significance of R.M.S. Titanic and the purposes of the 1986 Act, and (2) promote the safety of individuals involved in such operations. The broad and diverse public interest in R.M.S. Titanic was also considered in developing the NOAA Guidelines. While the NOAA Guidelines set forth a preferred policy of in situ preservation of R.M.S. Titanic, they also set forth the parameters for the research, recovery and conservation of R.M.S. Titanic artifacts for the benefit of the public.
Section 6 of the 1986 Act directs the United States Department of State to enter into negotiations with the United Kingdom, France, Canada and other nations to develop an international agreement that provides for: (1) Designation of R.M.S. Titanic as an international maritime memorial; and (2) research on, exploration of, and if appropriate, salvage of R.M.S. Titanic consistent with the international guidelines developed pursuant to the purposes of the 1986 Act. The NOAA Guidelines are consistent with the rules annexed to the International Agreement negotiated by the United States, Canada, France and the United Kingdom.
29. What principles are the NOAA Guidelines based upon?
The NOAA Guidelines represent the most widely accepted principles in archaeology and are both appropriate and applicable to a memorial site. The NOAA Guidelines are based on widely accepted international and domestic professional archaeological standards, including the ICOMOS International Charter on the Protection and Management of Underwater Cultural Heritage and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation.
30. What is the position of the NOAA Guidelines on the sale or trade of R.M.S. Titanic artifacts?
Basic professional archaeological standards dictate that artifacts recovered or salvaged from a wreck site should be kept intact as a collection. Such collections should not be dispersed through the sale of individual artifacts to private collectors such as through auction house sales. The NOAA Guidelines, consistent with Article 3 of the International Agreement, provide that all artifacts recovered from R.M.S. Titanic should be kept together and intact as project collections. Although not expressly delineated, following the NOAA Guidelines would mean that individual artifacts would not be sold. However, this would not necessarily preclude the sale, transfer, or trade of an entire collection to a museum or other qualified institution, provided that this commercial transaction does not result in the dispersal of artifacts. As long as the collection is kept together and maintained for research, education, viewing and other use of public interest, there should not be restrictions on commercial transactions which are intended to further these public purposes. The NOAA Guidelines are consistent with 1986 Act, as well as the admiralty court orders in the in rem action against R.M.S. Titanic. The NOAA Guidelines are also consistent with agreements that the company with salvage rights to R.M.S. Titanic entered into with the French Institute IFREMER for salvage of the artifacts from the wreck site and with the British National Maritime Museum for the display of such salvaged artifacts.
31. Should the R.M.S. Titanic be considered a gravesite and/or maritime memorial for those who died on the ship?
NOAA acknowledges the intense controversy and disagreement over whether the R.M.S. Titanic should be considered a grave site. Most who feel that it is not a grave site base this view on the fact that no bodies have been found on or near the wreck and that human bone dissolves into seawater at the depth at which the wreck lies. While it is true that no bodies have been found and are not likely to be found on or near the wreck of the R.M.S. Titanic, others feel that the wreckage of the R.M.S. Titanic should be considered a grave site. Many people died on the R.M.S. Titanic the night it sank and while their actual bodies may not today be on or near the wreckage, the site is their final resting place and should be respected as such.
Congress recognized the symbolism of the R.M.S. Titanic wreckage to the memory of the victims in its direction to the United States Department of State to enter into international negotiations to declare the R.M.S. Titanic an international maritime memorial. (1986 Act, 16 U.S.C. 450rr-4). In the treatment of R.M.S. Titanic as a maritime memorial, NOAA has determined that it is appropriate to treat R.M.S. Titanic as a grave site. The scientific and archaeological approach advocated by the NOAA Guidelines is applicable to a maritime memorial as it is consistent with the Congressional intent to recognize the scientific, cultural, and historical significance of the site.
32. How does NOAA balance recovering R.M.S. Titanic artifacts with managing the wreck site as a maritime memorial?
NOAA realizes and acknowledges that it is in the public’s interest to salvage some artifacts from the R.M.S. Titanic wreck site. To balance this value with the Congressional intent to manage the wreck site as a maritime memorial, NOAA has concluded that the recovery of many of the artifacts from the debris field (with certain exceptions) to be consistent with the NOAA guidelines, including the in situ preservation policy. However, NOAA has also determined that recovery of artifacts from the hull is not consistent with the purposes of a maritime memorial.
33. What is the statutory definition of the R.M.S. Titanic?
The 1986 Act defines "R.M.S. Titanic" to mean the shipwrecked vessel R.M.S. Titanic, her cargo or other contents, including those items which are scattered on the ocean floor in her vicinity (16 U.S.C. 450 rr-1(c)). The NOAA Guidelines are based primarily on the Rules annexed to the International Agreement, particularly the annexed rules for activities aimed at R.M.S. Titanic. The NOAA Guidelines define "R.M.S. Titanic" and "artifacts" separately to better conform to the International Agreement. The combination of these two definitions is similar to that found in the 1986 Act.
34. In the "Sale of Artifacts" section of the NOAA Guidelines, the term "qualified institution" is mentioned. What is the definition of a "qualified institution"?
The phrase "qualified institution" as mentioned in first paragraph of the "Sale of Artifacts" section is any facility where the collection is kept together and maintained for the benefit of the public consistent with the NOAA Guidelines and the 1986 Act. This will typically be a museum, but not always.
35. What is in situ preservation?
In situ preservation means that the preservation of R.M.S. Titanic at the site of the wreck should be considered as the first option for protection. It is a precautionary approach to management of R.M.S. Titanic consistent with the character of a Maritime Memorial. It is not intended as a legal presumption against the recovery or salvage of artifacts conducted in a manner consistent with NOAA Guidelines. Recovery or salvage of the artifacts may be justified by educational, scientific or cultural interests.
36. Why do some people oppose in situ preservation?
Most people who oppose the concept of in situ preservation do so because they feel that the wreck is decaying at a rapid rate, and that this approach would disallow anyone from the salvage, recovery and viewing of artifacts from the wreck in the future. In situ preservation is simply a precautionary management approach and is not intended to create any legal presumption to preclude recovery or salvage. This is a current professional practice for managing heritage resources in place when the disruption of the site could lead to its destruction. In identifying in situ preservation as the preferred alternative, NOAA acknowledges the multiple thousands of artifacts that have been recovered from the site prior to the development of the NOAA Guidelines and that adequate planning for research, recovery and salvage can protect the artifacts, their context, and their interpretation.
Decisions to excavate sites or remove artifacts are made on a case-by-case basis when the proposed activity: (1) Will meet objective management criteria; (2) will be done in accord with professional standards; and (3) is justified by either educational, scientific or cultural interests, including for mitigation, protection, or preservation purposes. This scientific and archaeological approach is applicable to a maritime memorial as it is consistent with the Congressional intent to recognize the scientific, cultural, and historical significance of the site.
NOAA has done an extensive literature review on this topic and has found little, and at times contradictory, information on the rate of decay of the vessel. While a few reliable, peer-reviewed sources of information are available on the subject, most of the support for the claim that the ship is decaying very rapidly is anecdotal and has not yet been peer-reviewed or published. NOAA would be willing to review any additional pertinent literature to the contrary.
Based on the available information on the rate of deterioration, NOAA understands that the wreckage of the R.M.S. Titanic is in a state of decay and expects that the hull and structure of the ship may collapse to the ocean floor within the next 50 years, perhaps sooner. The intent of the NOAA Guidelines, in keeping with the intent of the 1986 Act, is to discourage activities that would accelerate the ship’s deterioration. Such activities include cutting holes in the ship’s hull to access artifacts in the interior of the wreckage. Consistent with an in situ preservation approach, it is also the intent of the NOAA Guidelines to preserve the wreckage of the R.M.S. Titanic as a memorial for those who perished when the ship sank and thus to preserve the integrity of the wreckage.
While the concept of in situ preservation promotes and encourages maintaining the wreckage as it currently exists, it will not prevent recovery or salvage that is determined to be in the public interest nor does this approach detract from the educational value of the ship or inhibit the public access to the wreck site or to any recovered or salvaged artifacts by the general public. If followed correctly, the NOAA Guidelines will help salvors and archaeologists plan and execute their recovery of artifacts that have educational, scientific, or cultural importance in such a manner so that they are properly preserved and consequently properly displayed for the general public.
37. What legal authority does NOAA have to adopt or enforce the NOAA Guidelines?
Congress provided NOAA with the authority to develop the NOAA Guidelines in the 1986 Act. The NOAA Guidelines were developed consistent with the United States Constitution, the 1986 Act, and international maritime law.
38. When did the NOAA Guidelines take effect?
NOAA published proposed Guidelines on June 2, 2000, in the Federal Register (65 Fed. Reg. 35326), accepting comments from the date of publication through July 3, 2000. NOAA published its response to 26 common statements or positions found repeatedly throughout the 64 comments received on April 12, 2001, in the Federal Register (66 Fed. Reg. 18905). The NOAA Guidelines took effect on April 12, 2001.
39. Do the NOAA Guidelines restrict the public from viewing recovered artifacts or learning about the R.M.S. Titanic?
NOAA does not feel that the Guidelines restrict the public viewing of recovered artifacts. To the contrary, the NOAA Guidelines facilitate education in that they assist salvors and researchers in maintaining the historical context of each recovered artifact. The intent of the NOAA Guidelines is not to regulate the salvage or scientific community working on the wreckage of the R.M.S. Titanic, but rather, to provide them with guidance on how to maintain the ship’s cultural, social, and historical integrity, in accordance with section 16 U.S.C. 450rrâ€“3, while performing operations at the wreckage.
40. How do the NOAA Guidelines represent the public interest?
The NOAA Guidelines, based on domestic and international standards as reflected in the International Agreement on the protection of the R.M.S. Titanic, represent the most widely accepted public and professional archaeological and historical preservation principles currently known. Following the NOAA Guidelines is in the public interest because artifacts will be preserved and recorded so that historical information can be extracted from the wreck without destroying it or compromising the ship’s integrity. Not following the NOAA Guidelines may cause artifacts to be sold individually, historical information to be lost forever, and the deterioration of the ship to be accelerated. These are in all likelihood contrary to the public interest.
41. How were the public, interested federal agencies, academia, and research institutions involved in developing the NOAA Guidelines?
First, though not required, NOAA published the proposed guidelines in the Federal Register on June 2, 2000 (65 Fed. Reg. 35326). In that notice, NOAA invited and encouraged public comment on and suggestions for improvement for the proposed guidelines. Sixty-four comments were received. Furthermore, on June 15, 2000, NOAA held a public meeting at which people testified providing their views on the proposed guidelines. All comments were taken into account and the final Guidelines were revised in response to these comments. Prior to drafting the proposed guidelines, NOAA met with many interested parties including RMST(as the salvor-in-possession of the R.M.S. Titanic), other members of the professional salvage community, and members of the archaeological community to gather information about the wreckage of the R.M.S. Titanic, current salvage practices and other information relevant to the preparation of the NOAA Guidelines. In addition, NOAA participated in seven meetings between 1997 and January of 2000 with delegates from the United Kingdom, Canada, and France. RMST, as well as various experts in law, science, history, archaeology and salvage were periodically consulted prior to and throughout these meetings.
42. Who has interests and rights to Titanic? (Public Interest)
As a British-registered ship in the White Star Line that was owned by a United States company — in which famed American financier John Pierpont "JP" Morgan was a major stockholder, Titanic was built in Belfast, Northern Ireland by Harland & Wolff for transatlantic passage between Southampton, England and New York City. The White Star Line went out of business and no successor in interest has claimed ownership or rights to Titanic. In the salvage, the Liverpool and London Insurance company asserted potential rights and interests. However, RMST, the current salvor-in-possession, entered into an agreement that is under the seal of the court.
Public Interest in Titanic
In its January 31, 2006 decision the Fourth Circuit Court held that RMST does not own the Titanic wreck but was granted exclusive rights to salvage under maritime law in large part because of it assurances that it would serve the public interest in Titanic including conserving salvaged artifacts for the public and not selling them for private commercial gain. “Because the traditional law of salvage, however, involves the creation of a trust relationship between salvor and the court on behalf of the owner, it is not a major step to apply the same principles to historic wreck, creating a trust relationship between the salvor and the court on behalf of the public interest.” Id. at 22. “. . . RMST has voluntarily and openly pursued its functions as a trustee for the public interest, and the district court has repeatedly accepted that offer. In its annual reports, RMST has stated its mission ‘to preserve the Titanic’s history by keeping its artifacts recovered from the wreck site together as a collection for exhibition to the public, without sale to private collectors, and to obtain oceanic material and scientific data from the Titanic wreck site for purposes of historical verification, scientific study and education.’ One report goes on to quote, as part of RMST’s mission, the district court’s recognition of RMST’s accomplishments in ‘maximizing the wreck’s historical value in returning the wreck’s artifacts to society for the general use and education of all mankind.’ " Id. at 23.
“RMST made such statements to the district court even before it was declared exclusive salvor-in-possession, and the district court has stated that it relied on RMST’s statement of mission in declaring RMST the exclusive salvor-in-possession and in entering subsequent orders protecting RMST from competitive interference. See, e.g., R.M.S. Titanic, 924 F. Supp. at 718, 723; R.M.S. Titanic, Inc. v. Wrecked & Abandoned Vessel . . . believed to be the R.M.S. Titanic, 9 F. Supp. 2d 624, 636 (E.D. Va. 1998). In its October 19, 2001 order, the district court recounted that
The court referred to an earlier report from RMST in which RMST stated, ‘The long-term intent of RMST’s research and recovery program is to keep the artifacts recovered from the Titanic together as a ‘collection’ and make them available for exhibition to the public.’ ” Id. at 23. See also id. at 24.
“The court may, in addition to the traditional salvage remedies, also enter such orders as to the title and use of the property retrieved as will promote the historical, archeological, and cultural purposes of the salvage operation.” Id. at 25. “And we remand this case to the district court with the recognition that it may apply the principles of traditional salvage law to the wreck of the Titanic in a manner that serves either the owner or, absent an owner, the public interest and at the same time provides an appropriate award to the salvor.” Id. at 26.
RMST/Premier holds the title to the artifacts recovered from the wreck site from 1987 to 2004. The rights were granted by France for the artifacts from the 1987 expedition and by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia for the recovered artifacts between 1993 and 2004 in an Order on August 15, 2011. However, RMST voluntarily agreed to include the 1987 French Collection into many of the Covenants and Conditions so that they may be managed as a whole intact collection. All artifacts recovered by the salvor are subject to a set of Covenants and Conditions which the salvor negotiated with NOAA and the Department of State through the Department of Justice. The covenants and conditions lay out the rules for the management and preservation of the artifact collection.
The Covenants and Conditions state that the Court’s in specie salvage award shall be a trust for the benefit of and subject to the beneficial interest of the public in the historical, archeological, scientific, or cultural aspects of the wreck and its artifacts. NOAA represents the public interest in the Titanic Collections and exercises oversight functions in relation to the Covenants and Conditions. NOAA’s authority to represent the public interest in this matter is consistent with NOAA’s authority under the RMS Titanic Maritime Memorial Act of 1986 and NOAA’s Guidelines for Research, Exploration and Salvage of R.M.S. Titanic (2001). The Covenants and Conditions are also consistent with the International Agreement Concerning the Shipwrecked Vessel R.M.S. Titanic (2003).
NOAA’s representation of the public interest in Titanic was based in part on a number of laws and facts. Following the discovery of the sunken vessel, the United States has taken a number of major steps to protect the R.M.S. Titanic, its wreck site, and its artifacts. This interest was formally recognized by the United States Congress when, in 1986, it passed the R.M.S. Titanic Memorial Act, which noted that the R.M.S. Titanic “is of major national[,] international[,] cultural[,] and historical significance, and merits appropriate international protection.” 16 U.S.C. § 450 rr. In keeping with the United States’ interests in this vessel, the Act directed NOAA to “develop international guidelines for research on, exploration of, and if appropriate, salvage of the R.M.S. Titanic.” 16 U.S.C. § 450 rr-3. These guidelines, which NOAA developed in consultation with the United Kingdom, France, and Canada, became effective on April 12, 2001. 66 Fed. Reg. 18905, 18912 (2001).
The R.M.S. Titanic Memorial Act of 1986 acknowledges that NOAA is the federal agency possessing expertise in regard to the shipwreck. 16 U.S.C. § 450 rr-3. Moreover, as explained in NOAA’s Guidelines for Research, Exploration and Salvage of R.M.S. Titanic, “NOAA has the technical expertise to . . . advocate the professional scientific approach to manage the Maritime Memorial.” 66 Fed. Reg. 18905, 18911 (2001). For example, NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary Program has extensive experience managing shipwrecks of cultural importance such as the USS Monitor.
43. What role does NOAA play in the 2012 auction of R.M.S. Titanic, Inc.?
On August 15, 2011, the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia signed an Order granting RMST title to the artifacts recovered in the 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2004 salvage expeditions subject to covenants and conditions. The Covenants and Conditions were initially proposed by RMST, negotiated with NOAA and the United States Department of State through the United States Department of Justice, and then were finalized by the Court. The Covenants and Conditions were developed to ensure that the artifacts recovered from Titanic will be conserved and curated as an intact collection in a manner consistent with current international and United States historic preservation standards.
The Covenants and Conditions are perpetual and will carry over to any owner and trustee of the collection of artifacts. Under the Covenants and Conditions, NOAA represents the public interest in Titanic and has authority to enforce the terms through the United States Department of Justice in court proceedings.
44. How does law and policy protect a British vessel, owned by a United States company, shipwrecked on the continental shelf of Canada, and found by a French-United States expedition?
The Titanic wreck site is located in international waters and therefore is governed by general principles of international law rather than the laws of one country. The overarching purpose of existing laws and regulations governing the Titanic wreck site is to preserve and protect the wreck site for present and future educational, scientific, and cultural purposes conducted in the public interest. So long as public visitation to and documentation of the wreck site is non-intrusive, it is not prohibited under the doctrine of freedom of navigation on the high seas, the International Agreement, or 1986 Act. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit confirmed this open access policy for non-intrusive visitation in 1999. The salvor-in-possession, RMST, sought to prevent other parties from visiting and photographing the wreck site. The Court denied the company’s request, and thus established a precedent under domestic law preserving the rights of private entities to conduct tourism at the wreck site so long as activities do not result in harm to the wreck site.
45. Why is the United States Government involved with Titanic?
Titanic holds exceptional national and international significance as both a site of historical importance and continuing scientific study. Importantly, Titanic serves as a maritime memorial for those individuals who lost their lives on that infamous night in 1912. Of more than 2,200 individuals on board Titanic, approximately 1,500 perished in its tragic sinking, including 119 of the 306 American passengers and many on their way to become United States citizens. The remains of many of these individuals were never recovered, and Titanic serves as their final resting place.
The sinking of Titanic was one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history and quickly became a catalyst for change. The United States Congress held hearings on the casualty that resulted in a report and measures to improve safety of navigation. Similar investigations were held in the United Kingdom. The international community readily came together for the purpose of establishing global maritime standards and regulations to promote safety of navigation, the most important of which was the Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS), widely regarded as the most important of all international agreements on maritime safety. Today, these rules still apply, ensuring the safety of seafarers and modern cruise line passengers.
In response to the discovery of one of the most famous and well-known shipwrecks in the world – the Titanic – Congress saw the need for legislation that would properly protect the integrity of the ship, while allowing all interested parties, from relatives of victims to scientists and naval architects, to benefit from its historic discovery. According to House Report 99-393 (November 21, 1985), Congress was especially concerned with the potential harm to the wreck site that salvagers might cause. Until an international agreement could be negotiated, Congress did not want any person to physically alter, disturb, or salvage the Titanic.
Nearly identical bills addressing these concerns were introduced in the House of Representatives on September 11, 1985 (HR 3272), and in the Senate on February 5, 1986 (S. 2048). Both chambers ultimately passed the Senate version of the bill, which was subsequently signed into law by President Reagan on October 21, 1986. Thus, Congress passed 1986 Act, signed by President Reagan, to encourage recognition of the wreck as a maritime memorial to those who lost their lives when it sank, to promote the development of an international agreement providing for the protection of the wreck, and to cultivate internationally recognized guidelines for research, exploration and, if appropriate, salvage activities.
Currently, the United States Department of State, the United States Department of Commerce, and other interested agencies are working with Congress to protect R.M.S. Titanic from looting and unscientific salvage and to ensure adherence to the scientific rules for research, recovery, or salvage that will help preserve R.M.S. Titanic for present and future generations. In particular, NOAA is working with Congress to: (1) implement the International Agreement, including the recognition of the wreck as a maritime memorial, and provide the authority to ensure that it continues to be respected as the resting place of those who lost their lives in its sinking; (2) prohibit potentially harmful activities directed at R.M.S. Titanic; (3) establish a permitting system to manage the research, exploration, recovery and salvage of R.M.S. Titanic; (4) require the application of current professional standards of scientific and archaeological resource management to ensure that R.M.S. Titanic is properly preserved and conserved for future generations; and (5) create an Advisory Council to make recommendations to the United States Secretary of Commerce regarding the protection and long-term management of the wreck site as well as the conservation and curation of any artifacts recovered.
Since the discovery of the wreck site in 1985, NOAA has been involved in protecting and preserving the site in some capacity, from participating in exploration and scientific missions to negotiating international agreements. In 1985, Congress recognized the shipwreck as a site of "national and international cultural and historical significance" in need of international protection and enacted the 1986 Act, signed by President Reagan. The 1986 Act encouraged NOAA and the United States Department of State to (1) negotiate an international agreement to protect Titanic and (2) develop international guidelines for exploration, research, and, if determined appropriate, salvage.
While an International Agreement was developed, acceptance of the United States has not occurred. Acceptance, like ratification, is a way in which countries indicate their willingness to be bound by an international agreement. In this case, the United States signed the International Agreement subject to "acceptance" because the United States reserves "ratification" for instances of treaties in which the Executive branch obtains the advice and consent of the Senate. Acceptance is contingent upon authorization from Congress to carry out the obligations under the International Agreement through the enactment of legislation. After the enactment of legislation from Congress providing the Executive branch authority to implement the agreement, the United States Department of State would let the United Kingdom know that it accepts the responsibility to be bound by the International Agreement.
Today, the United States Departments of Justice, State, and Commerce (primarily through NOAA), and other interested agencies continue work to:
Titanic Ventures, Inc., a United States company, with assistance from the French Institute IFREMER (co-discoverer of the wreck), salvaged approximately 1,800 artifacts in 1987 and obtained title to them, subject to certain conditions, in a salvage award from a French Administrative Tribunal. The conditions included a requirement that the artifacts not be sold individually but rather be kept together as a single collection for the public benefit. In June 1994, Titanic Ventures obtained exclusive salvage rights to Titanic from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The Court has since held that Titanic Ventures, now known as RMST, continues to have the right to salvage the wreck but does not own it or any artifacts recovered from the wreck site. The Court also prohibited any piercing or penetration of the wreck’s hull without the Court’s authorization.
On August 15, 2011, the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia signed an Order granting RMST title to the artifacts recovered in the 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, and 2004 salvage expeditions subject to covenants and conditions. The covenants and conditions were initially proposed by RMST, negotiated with NOAA and the United States Department of State through the United States Department of Justice, and then were finalized by the Court. The covenants and conditions were developed to ensure that the artifacts recovered from Titanic will be conserved and curated as an intact collection in a manner consistent with current international and United States historic preservation standards and not be sold individually. The covenants and conditions are perpetual and will carry over to any owner and trustee of the collection of artifacts. Under the covenants and conditions, NOAA represents the public interest in Titanic and has authority to enforce the terms through the United States Department of Justice in court proceedings.
46. How is the United States connected to Titanic?
Although Titanic sailed under the British flag, the ship itself was actually American-owned. Titanic was a British-registered ship, owned and operated by the British company White Star Line. However, White Star Line was a subsidiary company of the American-owned International Mercantile Marine Co. of New Jersey, of which industrial tycoon J.P. Morgan was the majority shareholder.
Of the 306 American passengers onboard Titanic, 119 did not survive. Other passengers were foreign-born immigrants traveling to the United States, hoping to someday become American citizens. Many of these individuals did not survive. Of those passengers rescued from the sea, most mourned the loss of family and friends in the disaster. In 2006, at age 99, Lillian Asplund, the last living American survivor of Titanic (and the last living survivor with clear recollection of the event), died in Massachusetts. At age five, she lost her father and three brothers on Titanic.
In 1985, the shipwreck was discovered in international waters by a joint French-American team of scientists, led by American oceanographer Robert Ballard. In 1994, a United States federal court granted exclusive salvage rights to the American company Titanic Ventures, Inc. (now operating as RMST). As salvagers, RMST does not own the shipwreck or the recovered artifacts, but instead holds them in trust for public viewing and research.
47. Why has Titanic become perhaps the most iconic shipwreck in the world despite numerous other tragic disasters throughout maritime history?
When the reportedly unsinkable R.M.S. Titanic sank on April 15, 1912, approximately 1,500 of the 2,200 individuals aboard the ship perished. Almost immediately, legends developed from reports of the night’s events. The press celebrated the luxurious ship’s heroes and heroines and remembered those whose lives were lost. Major news headlines in 1912 focused on notable men and women aboard the ship and the stories of survivors, as well as the ship’s safety standards (primarily the lack of lifeboats) and the investigatory response to these regulations. Today, the tales surrounding one of the greatest peacetime maritime disasters in history continue to fascinate millions and inspire countless books, articles, films and documentaries.
Social Class Barriers
Titanic tells a unique story of what happens when members of distinct social classes are placed in the same life-threatening circumstance. Passengers onboard Titanic were separated into classes based on a rigid social hierarchy. However, when the ship struck the iceberg on the night of April 14, 1912, all passengers, rich and poor alike, confronted the same disaster. Both heroes and villains were created that night, and their stories have been retold countless times over the past ten decades. Generation upon generation are familiar with the stories of wealthy passengers who were lowered from the ship in lifeboats only half filled to capacity while third-class passengers and their children struggled to find life-saving equipment left onboard. Modern-day films and documentaries have recounted the last moments of the musicians who continued playing on deck until they were finally pulled underwater with the ship; of the cowardice of the man who dressed in women’s clothing so that he would be allowed in a lifeboat; or the strength of the women who persuaded their lifeboat captains to return to the wreck in search of survivors.
The significant loss of life was further personalized through reports of the deaths of many famous and wealthy individuals. Many men of great fortune perished in the sinking after having escorted their wives and first-class female companions to the remaining lifeboats. There were many stories of men dressed in their finest business attire sitting on the deck of the ship as they awaited their final fate. Immensely well-known individuals died on Titanic, including American multimillionaire and banker John Jacob Astor IV, author Jacques Futrelle, Major Archibald Butts who was aide to President Taft, and Macy’s co-owner and former U.S. Congressman Isidor Straus and his wife Ida, who refused to leave his side when offered a seat in a lifeboat.
Timing: 20th Century Engineering, Technology and Communications
News of the tragedy was received by many as an unfathomable surprise. At the time of its construction, Titanic represented the height of shipbuilding technology, comfort and luxury. To many, the ship was seen as unsinkable and immune from the dangers of early twentieth century transoceanic passage. The fantastic loss of life and the sheer magnitude of the accident shocked the world. The oversight and negligence of the ship’s owners, in failing to provide sufficient safety equipment, stunned and outraged the international community.
A significant reason why Titanic is today the icon of maritime tragedy is a result of the time period in which the accident occurred. By the early twentieth century, breakthrough technological advances in communication capabilities had brought the world closer together. People were able to communicate with one another more easily and information and news was more quickly disseminated across the United States and internationally. Thus, news of the Titanic disaster spread rapidly throughout North America, Europe, and the world. Further, at the time of the disaster, the United States was in the midst of a massive wave of immigration; emigrants from numerous European countries were flooding into the United States. Unlike previous time periods, however, twentieth century immigrants were able to utilize the technology of the day to retain their ties with family and friends left behind in Europe. Some of the passengers aboard Titanic were individuals intending to become United States citizens upon arrival in New York. Thus, Titanic is not only remembered as a tragedy but as part of the story of America’s growth as an immigrant stronghold and cultural melting pot. In this way, the story of Titanic is the story of America.
48. Why is Titanic recognized as a Maritime Memorial? Can human remains still be found on or near Titanic?
There were over 2,200 individuals onboard Titanic; approximately 1,500 died in its tragic sinking. Although efforts were made to recover the dead, many remains were never found. It is probable that most, if not all, human remains at the wreck site have deteriorated and disappeared over time. There is some speculation that human remains may still be found in certain areas of the ship that are protected from external forces. However, whether or not human remains are present on the shipwreck does not detract from the fact that Titanic was the last resting place of hundreds of individuals. Much like the Pearl Harbor Memorial to U.S.S. Arizona, the site should be protected not simply because human remains are present, but in memory of those individuals who lost their lives at that location. As made clear in prior legislation, Congress recognizes Titanic as a memorial to the victims (1986 Act, 16 U.S.C. 450rr-4). NOAA has also determined that it is appropriate to treat Titanic as a grave site.
It is most likely that human remains will never be found on or near Titanic. Organic material located within the ship that was exposed to the marine environment likely deteriorated by the 1940s. Thus, the debris field is void of human remains and only contains personal affects. Interior spaces of the hull, especially the intact bow section, even if flooded during the sinking process, may not be exposed to the current outside environment. These types of isolated environments create a condition of stasis where constant pressure, low temperatures, no flow, and anoxic water levels have been known to preserve organic matter for centuries.
The scientific and archaeological approach prescribed by the International Agreement and the 2011 proposed legislation is consistent with the site’s designation as a Maritime Memorial and the Congressional intent to recognize the scientific, cultural, and historical significance of the shipwreck.