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Titanic preservation : RMS Titanic Inc wants title to artifacts
Posted by webmaster on 2004/2/24 19:28:00 (4470 reads)

Titanic salvage firm asks court for title to artifacts

The Atlanta-based owner of the Titanic's salvage rights which most importantly allows it to retrieve artifacts from the wrecks has asked a federal court to turn over full title to more than $73 million in artifacts that have been the subject of legal battles for more than a decade.

Since the beginning, R.M.S. Titanic Inc did not get full rights because the wreck is in the centre of media controversial position, and even today its that way.

R.M.S. Titanic Inc. is asking that it be allowed to decide what to do with the doomed luxury liners artifacts, according to documents filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Norfolk. However, two federal judges previously barred the Atlanta company from selling the artifacts or breaking up the set of 6,127 pieces.

So far, the court has allowed only public exhibitions of the pieces. Five exhibits are currently touring the world.

The artifacts include playing cards, lumps of coal and part of the ships hull. A list of every item was filed with the court, and an appraiser has estimated their worth at $73,278,105. This is the first time a price tag has been placed on the artifacts, and officials said the return at auction would likely be much greater.

If its request is denied, R.M.S. Titanic is asking for a $225 million compensation award for the five salvage dives that the company has financed since 1993. It is unclear who would pay that fee, but one option would be an auction of the artifacts. Another option would be their sale to a museum.

R.M.S. Titanic has been in negotiations with the Mariners Museum in Newport News for about a year, but the sides remain far apart, officials involved said. Its still very much alive, said John Hightower, the museums president. But he added that the museum is not in a financial position to buy the pieces. And the company has said it has no intention of breaking up the set.

Company officials said they expect the court to hold a hearing later this year on its request. The hearing would likely include art appraisers and experts on the dangers of diving 12,500 feet to the bottom of the ocean.

The dangers posed to the salvors, the value of the artifacts and the financial risk in the venture may make the Titanic the largest salvage case in the history of maritime law, Portsmouth lawyer J. Ridgely Porter III said.

The Titanic lies at the bottom of the North Atlantic about 400 miles off the southern coast of Newfoundland. The luxury liner sank on its maiden voyage from England to New York after it struck an iceberg on April 15, 1912. Of the 2,228 passengers and crew, 705 were saved.

Discovered in 1985, the shipwreck soon drew expeditions. The first salvage operation was conducted in 1987. R.M.S. Titanic fought for and won sole salvage rights in 1992, but courts have ruled that the company does not own the artifacts.

No one else has come forward to claim ownership of the pieces, Porter said. But any attempt to sell them would likely be opposed by preservationists. Some people, particularly relatives of the passengers and crew, have called for the artifacts to be returned to the ocean floor and the site marked as a graveyard.

R.M.S. Titanic has other worries. A group of dissident stockholders has sued the company, alleging fraud. That case is pending in Norfolk federal court, too.

The company earned about $735,000 from exhibitions during the three-month period ended Nov. 30. But it continues to lose money. Shares of R.M.S. Titanic were selling for $1.17 Friday but have been as low as 4 cents in the last 12 months.

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