Who Owns the Titanic?

Image Credit: Premier Exhibitions

30 years ago, a crew of American and French researchers led by oceanographer Robert Ballard reported some astonishing news: 73 years after hitting an iceberg, the R.M.S. Titanic had been found in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Almost immediately, questions regarding who had the right to dive to depths of over 12,000 feet and retrieve artifacts—or even the ship itself—were the subject of public, ethical, and legal debate. Could anyone actually own the remains of the most infamous ocean liner in history?

The ship’s original owner, White Star Line, had evaporated, bought out by rival Cunard; insurance companies covering both the ship and freight had an unknown number of underwriters. The paper trail was so pockmarked by the time of the 1985 discovery that it would’ve been difficult for any one of them to make any substantial claim. And even if they could, the challenge was making a case that would trump admiralty law, which specifies that a sunken vessel located in international waters belongs to no one.

“Any financial records and the actual certificates of insurance are now lost,” says Paul Louden-Brown, a maritime historian and a former vice-president of the Titanic Historical Society. “It would be expensive to pursue a legal claim...particularly through the U.S. court system and any positive financial outcome is questionable.”

Naturally, not everyone agreed with that assessment.

In the 1980s and 1990s, several entities challenged the newly formed RMS Titanic, Inc., which had been recognized in court as being the salvor-in-possession after a 1987 dive in tandem with the French research team that had helped Ballard. (It didn’t give them ownership of the ship itself, but they had exclusive American rights to any artifacts retrieved during a dive.) A company named Marex said the ship had been abandoned by RMS (previously known as Titanic Ventures) because they had waited too long to return; another company fought to charge “tourists” $32,500 to visit the wreck in a submersible; insurer Liverpool and London, who had paid out on some passenger policies, pursued RMS in court before settling.

It took years, but RMS successfully fought off their remaining challengers and recovered thousands of items during dives performed from 1987 to 2004. Bags that had been recovered were opened by Telly Savalas during a live television special. (They contained some coins, jewelry and Italian lire.) In 1998, RMS was able to successfully raise a portion of the ship’s hull that weighed 15 tons. For a time, it was part of a Titanic exhibition at the Luxor in Las Vegas.

RMS has brought up over 5,000 artifacts but must continually display efforts to visit the wreck in order to maintain salvage rights. According to Louden-Brown, their jurisdiction applies only to dives in the United States. “There is nothing to prevent a company based in the UK or any other country from diving and recovering material from the vessel,” he says. “If the items recovered were landed in a U.S. port, then they would be seized and possibly the diving vessel impounded. So any operations would have to begin and end in a country other than the U.S.”

So who owns the Titanic? Right now, no one. If someone figured out a way to raise 66,000 tons without destroying what remains of the ship, they’d likely be able to claim it—until the inevitable legal challenges came their way. Personal effects and other items are yours for the taking providing you dive for them without entering the U.S. and don’t mind some harsh criticism. The act of retrieving artifacts has been perceived by some as disturbing the water-logged memorial of the more than 1,500 lives lost.

When Ballard returned to the site in 1986, his expedition placed a plaque on the ship’s stern to honor the dead. Like most everything else, it was eventually removed.

Additional Sources:

Titanic in the Courts,” Archaeology, January/February 2001.    

Evening Standard, Getty Images
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
$2.5 Million in World War II-Era Cash Discovered Beneath Winston Churchill's Former Tailor's Shop
Evening Standard, Getty Images
Evening Standard, Getty Images

A valuable secret has been hiding beneath the floorboards of a sporting goods store in the UK since World War II. As the BBC reports, about £30,000 in roughly 80-year-old British bank notes was unearthed by a renovation project at the Cotswold Outdoor store in Brighton. Adjusting for inflation, their value would be equal to roughly $2.5 million today.

Owner Russ Davis came across the hidden treasure while tearing out decades-worth of carpet and tiles beneath the property. What he initially assumed was a block of wood turned out to be a wad of cash caked in dirt. Each bundle held about £1000 worth of £1 and £5 notes, with about 30 bundles in total.

The bills are badly damaged, but one surviving design element holds an important clue to their history. Each note is printed in blue, the color of the emergency wartime currency first issued by the Bank of England in 1940.

At the time the money was buried, the property was home to the famous British furrier and couturier Bradley Gowns. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his wife, Lady Clementine Churchill, were reportedly regular customers.

The reason the fortune was stowed beneath the building in the first place remains a mystery. Davis imagines that it might have come from a bank robbery, while Howard Bradley, heir to the Bradley Gowns family business, suspects it might have been stashed there as a getaway fund in anticipation of a Nazi invasion, as he told the New York Post.

The hoard will remain in the possession of the Sussex police as more details on the story emerge.

[h/t BBC]

Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images
Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A World War II Bomber Lost with 11 Servicemembers Has Been Found After 74 Years
Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images
Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

A B-24 D-1 bomber plane transporting 11 American servicemen was shot down over the South Pacific on March 11, 1944. For more than 70 years, the final resting place of the aircraft nicknamed Heaven Can Wait and the men it carried remained a mystery. Now, through the efforts of Project Recover, it's finally been identified.

Project Recover is an organization dedicated to locating the remains of U.S. aircraft that crashed into the ocean during World War II. To find the wreckage of this particular plane, a team of marine scientists, archaeologists, and historians worked together to trace its final flight.

Heaven Can Wait was on its way to bomb Japanese anti-aircraft batteries around Hansa Bay off the north coast of Papua New Guinea when it went down. Before heading off to Papua New Guinea to survey the area, Project Recover compiled data on the crash from military reports, diary entries from airmen on associated planes, and extended family members.

With that information in hand, the team traveled to the suspected crash site and searched a 10-square-mile patch of sea floor with sonar, divers, and aerial and aquatic robots. It took them 11 days to locate the wreckage of Heaven Can Wait in Hansa Bay, 213 feet beneath the ocean's surface.

Now that the bomber has been found, the U.S. government will assess the site before potentially recovering the remains of the lost servicemen. “This is an important step toward our ultimate goal of identifying and returning home the crew of Heaven Can Wait who bravely served our country during the battle at Hansa Bay,” Dan Friedkin, Project Recover team member and chairman and CEO of the Friedkin Group, said in a statement. “Our search efforts for the more than 72,000 missing American service members from World War II will continue as we seek to bring closure to the families impacted by their loss.”

Watch a video from Project Recover detailing the story of Heaven Can Wait below.


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