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Expedition to Titanic wreck launches debate over remains of victims

A plan to recover the telegraph from the Titanic has started a debate about the human remains inside. Exploration of the wreck of the most famous liner has been going on for 35 years and curiously, according to the company that owns the search and recovery rights, no one has ever found any human remains
Published: October 24, 2020 - 09:00
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 21:23
Expedition to Titanic wreck launches debate over remains of victims

A plan to recover the telegraph from the Titanic has started a debate about the human remains inside. Exploration of the wreck of the most famous liner has been going on for 35 years and curiously, according to the company that owns the search and recovery rights, no one has ever found any human remains there.


The discussion about the victims and the moral aspect of excavating anything came up when the idea of recovering the iconic Marconi telegraph from Italy was raised. Now the question has been raised as to whether the world’s most famous shipwreck may still contain the remains of passengers and crew who died a century ago?

Lawyers representing the US government have raised the issue in an ongoing court battle to block the planned expedition, and in support of their claims they cite archaeologists who say remains may still be in the wreck. They also accuse the RMS Titanic Inc. of disregarding the issue in order to carry out its plan.

1,500 people died in the Titanic disaster. It isimpossible to say with certainty that some of the human remains are not buried somewhere deep where there are no currents, said Paul Johnston, curator of maritime history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

The RMS Titanic Inc. wants to recover from the wreck a wireless telegraph made by the Italian brand Marconi. The same telegraph that was used to transmit the S.O.S. signal and call for help from the sinking liner. Thanks to this, it was possible to save around 700 people who left the ship in lifeboats.

To do this, the plan is to send an unmanned underwater vehicle that would slip through a skylight or into the heavily corroded plating of the wreck. The robot would then have to track and cut the legendary telegraph and return safely to the surface with it.

RMS Titanic Inc. representatives, on the other hand, claim that if human remains were still in the wreck, they would probably have been spotted at least once during one of the approximately 200 submersions performed on the wrecked liner.

In May, a federal judge in Norfolk, Virginia, dismissed a lawsuit against RMS Titanic Inc. U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Beach Smith wrote in her reasoning that the recovery of the telegraph will help preserve and honour the legacy left by the indelible tragedy of the loss of the Titanic.

In turn, the US government filed a court challenge in June, claiming that the planned venture would violate federal law and an agreement with the UK recognising the wreck as a memorial. US lawyers say the agreement governs exploration of the wreck to ensure its hull, artefacts and “any human remains” remain intact.

Both sides are raising arguments in support of their claims, and it seems that both the first judgment and the next one may prove to be only the beginning of a long and fierce court battle. It is worth mentioning, however, that relatives of the victims, as well as of the survivors of the sinking of the Titanic, they supported the plan to excavate the telegraph and to preserve it for posterity as a museum exhibit and tangible proof of the enormous tragedy.

Photo: Shoe found near the stern of the Titanic/Institute for Exploration, Center for Archaeological Oceanography/University of Rhode Island/NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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