NOAA’s Section 113 Authorization Process

 

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This page provides information about the process NOAA has instituted to evaluate requests for a NOAA authorization to conduct research, exploration, salvage, or any other activity that would physically alter or disturb the wreck or wreck site of the RMS Titanic.
 
What is NOAA’s authority over the RMS Titanic?
 
Section 113 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 (Section 113) provides that “no person shall conduct any research, exploration, salvage, or other activity that would physically alter or disturb the wreck or wreck site of the RMS Titanic unless authorized by the Secretary of Commerce, per the provisions of the Agreement Concerning the Shipwrecked Vessel RMS Titanic.” The international Agreement Concerning the Shipwrecked Vessel RMS Titanic (International Agreement) entered into force for the United States and the United Kingdom on November 18, 2019.
 
On August 29, 2018, the Secretary of Commerce delegated to the NOAA Administrator partial authority to authorize activities under Section 113.84 Fed. Reg. 38012 (Aug. 29, 2019). Therefore, any person subject to U.S. jurisdiction who wishes to obtain a Section 113 authorization must apply to the NOAA Administrator.
 
Who must request a Section 113 authorization?
 
Section 113 requires that any “person” subject to U.S. jurisdiction proposing to conduct any research, exploration, salvage, or other activity that would physically alter or disturb the wreck or wreck site of the RMS Titanic first obtain authorization from the NOAA Administrator.  Section 113 does not define the term “person”;  however, the Dictionary Act, 1 U.S.C. § 1, provides that in determining the meaning of any act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise, “person” includes “corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.”    

 
What should someone seeking a Section 113 authorization include in their request?

Anyone requesting a Section 113 authorization should provide NOAA with information sufficient to demonstrate that the proposed project will comply with the Annex Rules of the International Agreement84 Fed. Reg. 38012 (Aug. 29, 2019). NOAA also encourages requestors to review the NOAA Guidelines for Research, Recovery and Salvage of RMS Titanic (66 Fed. Reg. 18905 (April 12, 2001)) as well as the International Maritime Organization Circular MEPC.1/Circ.779 (Pollution Prevention Measures in the Area Surrounding the Wreckage of RMS Titanic) (31 Jan. 2012).

 What are NOAA’s policies and priorities for safeguarding the Titanic?

In NOAA’s Guidelines for Research, Recovery and Salvage of RMS Titanic (66 Fed. Reg. 18905 (April 12, 2001)), the agency identified policies and priorities for safeguarding the Titanic.  These include:

The enactment of Section 113 and entry into force of the International Agreement impose legal obligations on the United States (and NOAA) that make mandatory certain policies identified in NOAA’s 2001 Guidelines.
 
How far in advance should an application for a Section 113 authorization be submitted to NOAA?

NOAA recommends that any person proposing to conduct any research, exploration, salvage, or other activity at the wreck or wreck site of RMS Titanic submit to NOAA, at least 120 calendar days prior to the proposed project date, information sufficient to demonstrate that the proposed project will comply with the Annex Rules of the International Agreement and to obtain any necessary authorization, if applicable.  84 Fed. Reg. 38012 (Aug. 29, 2019).

How does NOAA handle confidential or proprietary information that may be contained in a request for a Section 113 authorization?

NOAA handles requests for agency records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 U.S.C. § 552 et seq.) and the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. § 552a et seq.) in a manner consistent with these laws and the U.S. Department of Commerce regulations on the Disclosure of Government Information.15 C.F.R. Part 4. FOIA Exemption (b)(4) protects “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person [that is] privileged or confidential.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(4).  If a Section 113 authorization request includes such information, the confidential commercial information should be  clearly labeled  ‘‘Contains Confidential Information.’’ Additionally, the submitter should consider submitting such information as a separate attachment, and request that NOAA treat it as confidential. NOAA will not disclose such information if it qualifies for exemption from disclosure under FOIA, as determined pursuant to applicable regulations. See 15 C.F.R. §4.9.  Additionally, FOIA Exemption (b)(6) protects “personnel and medical files and similar files” when the disclosure of such information “would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6).
 
What if another nation state that is a party to the International Agreement opposes an authorization request?

The Secretary of Commerce has reserved authority under Section 113 to make all decisions arising under Article 5 of the International Agreement when a state party opposes an authorization. The International Agreement requires the United States to provide copies of, and its preliminary views on, authorization requests to other parties to the Agreement. The United States shall consider any comments it receives from other parties within 90 days following transmission to the other parties of copies of the request. International Agreement, Art. 5.

Are the NOAA Guidelines for Research, Recovery and Salvage of RMS Titanic based on any professional standards?

The NOAA’s Guidelines for Research, Recovery and Salvage of RMS Titanic are based on widely accepted international and domestic professional archaeological standards, including the International Council of Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) International Charter on the Protection and Management of Underwater Cultural Heritage, the rules annexed to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for Archeology and Historic Preservation, and the National Park Service’s Abandoned Shipwreck Act Guidelines.

Do applicants need any other authorization(s)? What about salvage rights?

Any request for a Section 113 authorization should include documentation of any other necessary authority or permission, if applicable.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has constructive in rem jurisdiction over RMS Titanic and has granted exclusive salvage rights to RMS Titanic, Inc. See, RMS Titanic, Inc. v. Wrecked & Abandoned Vessel, 2020 WL 2835826 (E.D. Va. 2020). NOAA intends to notify the Court of any project that may require a Section 113 authorization and will encourage any person requesting a Section 113 authorization to coordinate directly with the Court and any salvor-in-possession of RMS Titanic. Any person proposing a project involving the salvage of the Titanic wreck or wreck site, as determined by the Court, must also obtain approval from the Court in addition to any authorization required by Section 113. NOAA also intends to provide the Court with a copy of any authorization the NOAA Administrator issues pursuant to Section 113.

To whom should Section 113 requests be addressed?
 
NOAA Administrator
1305 East-West Highway,
SSMC IV, Suite 6111,
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Attention—Section 113 Authorization.

Requests or questions may also be sent via email to Titanic.Authorizations@noaa.gov.
 
To whom should additional questions about the Section 113 process be addressed?

Joseph Hoyt
National Maritime Heritage Program Coordinator 
Office of National Marine Sanctuaries 
1305 East-West Highway, N/NMS
(240) 533-0679
joseph.hoyt@noaa.gov

 (Updated December 10, 2020)