Legal position of the wreck

Can anyone reliably fill me in on the legal wrangles there has been over rights to the wreck and who owns the wreck. It appears that this legal battle has happened solely in the US. Can this be right as the wreck was a British registered ship lying International waters marking the graves of people from many different nations. Eaton and Haas said a lot about this during their talk to
the BTS convention last year in which they went so far to say (in the presence of George Tulloch)that American justice is
not about determining right and wrong, it is about rewarding those with the
bottomless pockets who can fund appeal after appeal after appeal. Those were
their exact words as I remember but I can't remember why they were
talking about it. I think they got sued for something, could someone fill me in?


Tracey McIntire

Hi Stuart!
I'll do my best but I'm hoping that some others with more knowledge might jump in here too (Dave Shuttle where are you?).

According to the "Law of the Sea," salvage rights belong to the person or persons who first discover the wreck and take objects from it. Although Dr. Ballard discovered Titanic, he did not salvage any items from it and so waived his rights. The next people to come along and actually salvage were the folks from RMST Inc. (George Tulloch and company). As they did take items, they were granted "salvor in possession" rights to the wreck by the Norfolk (Virginia) District Court, which presides over all cases of this nature. The only reason salvage rights were not considered in a British court is that RMST Inc. is an American company. It doesn't matter that Titanic was a British ship. In order to retain this status, RMST Inc. must periodically go to the wreck and bring up items. If they do not do this for an extended amount of time (I'm not sure if it is one year or not) then they lose the rights to salvage.

Now here's where things get complicated (if they aren't enough already!). In a move by stockholders, George Tulloch was ousted as president of RMST Inc. for not making enough profit off the wreck. The new president took over and has decided to take a destructive approach to salvage in order to bring up more artifacts and make more money. The Norfolk District Court has ruled that the company does NOT have the right to destroy the wreck in any way and must continue salvage only from the debris field. Tulloch and his associates are also trying to put a stop to this "strip it bare" approach to the wreck by fighting the current people in charge of RMST Inc. in court.
Meanwhile, the federal government is also trying to step in (although a bit late if you ask me) to stop salvage altogether by declaring the wreck a monument and gravesite. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has written guidelines for salvage that it hopes will be adapted. In order for this to happen, a bill must pass through Congress. A treaty is also in the works between the US, Canada, France, and England to declare the site a memorial and stop salvage. The problem with both of these is, of course, the government red tape involved and the inability to enforce any laws that would protect the wreck.
All these things are still up in the air as of this writing. If you would be interested in seeing some newspaper documentation of the most recent hearing in Norfolk District Court, I will be happy to send you some copies. You can e-mail me at [email protected].

I hope I haven't been too confusing--this is a hard issue to explain. If I've gotten anything wrong I hope someone will please correct me.

Tracey McIntire
I don't mean to be controversial but I agree with Dr Ballard about what
should have been done with the wreck, these artefacts ought to have been
left undisturbed and not brought up so Americans could pay $15 to go see
them. (I notice these exhibitions never seem to leave the USA, I think there was one in Greenwich about 1992 but that is the only one outside the USA I have heard of) A friend of mine has been down to the Titanic wreck
and said she was surprised to see the stars and stripes lying on the bridge.
The leaving of the stars and stripes appears to be a bit like sticking the
flag in the beach of a new found colony. It makes you wonder what they are trying prove by doing that, no
Americans ever worked on the bridge so why leave a stars and stripes there?
She also saw the damage done by Tulloch et al. in removing the mast light
and apparently they have even ripped off the First Class Entrance sign on
the port side of the boat deck. I wonder if they have done the same to the
"This Door for use of Crew Only" sign? They say thousands of objects have
been taken from the wreck site and sent to the USA yet I've only seen photos
of about 30 or so and there doesn't seem to be much interest in displaying photos of the artefacts. I remember one of the
items was the lid of a toothpaste dish showing a portrait of Queen
Victoria... I wonder what the point is in bringing something like that up?
What do we learn from it? Well, it proves that the people on the Titanic
brushed their teeth. Is this a new and exciting discovery that we didn't
know about before? I saw a similar toothpaste dish in an antiques shop near where
I live in Scotland and its monetary value was set at £5 so this is hardly
some priceless, irreplacable object that this gallant European second hand
car sales man has saved from being destroyed by the sea, is it? All that RMS Titanic American Registered Corp. seems to exist for is to profiteer from the grave site of a disaster that killed hundreds of people. If there were not this morbid curosity about the Titanic then I wonder what leg these people would have to stand on? I wonder how people would react if wreckage from other transport disasters like TWA flight 800 was to be exploited in this way? In my own research about the Olympic the only reference I have made to the raising of artefacts comes from a vent from the 1st Class Smoking Room Ceiling which was raised, identical ones from the Olympic still exist. What would I be losing out on if this vent had not been raised? Chances are I could have seen photos of it in the debris field. Why is the American government intervening at this stage to make the wreck a monument? Is it because of the change of administration?
p.s. You should really say Britain or the United Kingdom when you are referring to "England". What is the background to the treaty being drafted? I wouldn't imagine the respective Governments would assign too much importance to it. A treaty can only be ratified in Britain by Act of Parliament which is similarly a process associated with a lot of red tape.

Dave Shuttle

Hi Tracey,

You actually did a fine job of describing the procedures used in implementation of Admiralty Law to the salvaging of Titanic. Actually, RMS Titanic, Inc. (RMSTI), the salvor in possession, could have gone to any court in the world to claim salvage rights and Admiralty Law would have theoretically dictated the same procedure wherever RMSTI would have gone. It is an internationally recognized body of law used by many countries which has evolved in the several hundred years man has used the sea for commerce and travel. In this case, RMSTI took their claim to Norfolk, if I have my history correct, because the Norfolk court had previous experiences with implementation of Admiralty Law in salvage cases and had acquired a reputation of being a fair court in its views of salvage.

Dr. Ballard did not lay claim to Titanic for several reasons. Firstly, he was utilizing U.S. Government equipment in his expedition and it's my understanding that salvage cannot be accomplished with use of governmental equipment. It's against our country's military and governmental policies to allow this. Ballard could have remounted a private expedition to go back and lay claim by retrieval of an artifact, but did not. His trip back to Titanic in 1986, the year after discovery, was a photographic and exploration mission that made no attempt to claim the wreck.

RMSTI really did not lay the first claim as such. It was not formally in existance as a company when the first artifacts were recovered. Titanic Ventures and other financial forces joined to mount the 1987 expedition, during which over a thousand artifacts were retrieved. Titanic Ventures eventually reorganized and grew into RMSTI. In any event, a wine decanter was brought to the Federal District Court and the wreck was "arrested" by the court, as was the presented artifact. That's a technical procedure used by the court to establish its legal control over the wreck. It then appoints a salvor (RMSTI) to act on its behalf in managing the wrecksite. The court retains jurisdiction and can implement guidelines and policies a salvor must legally follow while acting as the agent of the court.

The court still mandates that certain guidelines are followed in the salvage practices of today. RMSTI must have a physical presence at the wrecksite periodically to maintain active salvor status. This period has generally been agreed to be one time every two years, though longer periods have taken place between expeditions. Also, the salvage company (RMSTI) must make periodic report to the court of their activities in order for the court to extend salvor status. The last periodic report made to the court by RMSTI took place September 8, 2000, following the 2000 expedition. At that time, a report was given to the court and an artifact was presented for arrest to maintain the RMSTI salvor claim to the wreck.

As for Stuart's comments concerning statements made about the economics of salvage status, to be truthful, every situation has a practical side and it is true that the court seeks to maintain a salvor who has the financial stability to continue to be the steward of the wrecksite. The court does not profit from a decision on salvor status. There are no kickbacks made. For instance, when you look at the history of the fight for Titanic, Marex and Jack Grimm presented the main challenge to RMSTI's salvor status in 1993 and had almost endless money backing. Yet the court did its job in determining right from wrong and awarded continued salvor status because RMSTI had shown they could, at that time, comply with the court's wishes and conduct salvage within the guidelines laid out by the court. Money was not the determining factor...or Marex and Jack Grimm would have been appointed salvor, not RMSTI.

I would be remiss if I did not make the bold statement that the best friend Titanic has had since her discovery has been the Third District Federal Court in Norfolk, Virginia. Judge J. Calvitt Clarke has meticulously followed established Admiralty Law to protect the wreck and her artifacts. When special situations have arisen, Judge Clarke has broken new ground and developed stances that consistently have sought to protect the wreck and artifacts for the education and historical legacy for mankind to come. He has always acted with great wisdom. Judge Clarke is now nearing retirement and his colleague Judge Rebecca Beach Smith is sitting together with Judge Clarke as a sort of apprentice to understand how the court has approached its cases before she takes over for an eventually retired Judge Clarke. We, of the Titanic community, have every reason to be optimistic that the Court's wisdom will continue under the reign of Judge Smith.

I hope this clears up some of the questions concerning Admiralty Law and how it has applied to Titanic. I am not a lawyer and do not pretend to know the law intimately. I have spent the past several years closely aligned with the Tullochs and have had all this explained to me as I asked many of the same quesitons. To that extent, I have a layman's knowledge at best. Feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you have any further questions.

Dave Shuttle

Dave Shuttle

Reply to Stuart's Post of March 9, 1:23 a.m.:

Hi Stuart,

I'm responding to some of the things you said within your post. Please know that I have been involved with RMSTI from early 1997 until George Tulloch's removal on Thanksgiving 1999. They, on July 13, 1993, brought up a steamer trunk, inside of which were found 19 of my family's letters, addressed to Howard Irwin. It turns out my great aunt and Irwin had been in love and he had saved the letters she had written to him as he traveled the world. With that said, George Tulloch and I made an agreement between us to research this story, previously unknown in Titanic's history, and tell it to the world. As a result, I worked closely with George for the past several years, though never as a paid employee. During our hours together and also in time spent with many other members of various expeditions, we have discussed several of the claims you make within your post.

The directional indication light from the mast was removed with no damage to the mast. It was hanging by a wire. In subsequent years, deterioration to the wreck has caused the mast to buckle from its own weight and it now appears to be in terribly unstable condition. This damage is due to the elements, not manmade. I might note that similar claims were made by others involving the crow's nest. In fact, the crow's nest was made of materials that virtually disintegrated over time. It is presumed the crow's nest fell in parts or as a whole into the open forward cargo bay, but Tulloch or no other man purposely did damage to it.

RMS Titanic, Inc. has held many exhibitions throughout the United States, as you have noted. It makes sense because these venues are geographically expedient and also because the U.S. is prosperous enough that money can be made through the exhibitions. It, frankly, takes a lot of money to mount expeditions and revenues generated in a prosperous U.S. help accomplish that goal. But exhibitions have been held quite successfully outside the U.S. Toronto hosted one in 1999. Still the North American continent you say!! Okay, that's fair. You mentioned Greenwich. There also was a long running exhibition in Hamburg, Germany. One was held in France. There was one held in Zurich. A Japanese exhibition in 1998 toured six cities in 12 months. Presently there are plans to hold a traveling show in South America. So Titanic has toured throughout the world since the recovery of the first artifacts. Most exhibitions hold 250 to 300 artifacts of various origins. There are recovered ship parts. There are stock items such as china and cutlery. There are personal possessions. I have attended several different exhibition venues and have always seen visitors moved to tears,overwhelmed as the true story of Titanic is brought home to them simply by viewing the remains of the tragedy.

The point in bringing these various items up from the bottom of the sea is to learn from the artifacts what may have really occurred and to preserve the memory of those who sailed upon her. A toothpaste dish with a portrait of the Queen has little actual value except it reminds us all of what human society was like in those days of history and it brings up the haunting question of who may have possessed that toothpaste holder. I've looked at buttons, a pipe with tobacco still inside, eyeglasses, a pen, a wallet, travel bags, jewelry...who were these folks who possessed these items? What might have been their last thoughts? In my case, I have taken great comfort in having family possessions (my family's letters) brought back to existance. I have learned more about my family thanks to RMS Titanic, Inc. I am so very proud that my family's writings are now used throughout the world to help tell the intimate story of those who traveled aboard the ill fated liner.

I agree that not all that has transpired at the wrecksite has been done correctly. Perhaps an American flag is out of place as is the Explorer's Club plaque and the vial of Mel Fisher's ashes. Fisher never had a connection to Titanic even though he was a famous salvager. If this process continues, soon Titanic will be a tasteless billboard of misgiven advertising.

As I personally see the end of Titanic's life as a wreck fast approaching (she is losing 200 lbs each day to the elements and will soon cave in on herself), I personally favor organized and systematic removal of materials from the ship herself while there still is time to salvage valuable artifact pieces before they are forever lost. The courts, however, do not see things that way and have forbidden intrusion into the wreck. Yet the Builder's plaque was removed in 2000. The "First Class Only" sign was removed in 2000. Wing bridge controls were removed in 2000. Tulloch was not part of the company while these items were removed, yet the public tries to throw all the blame toward him. Be fair. George Tulloch loves Titanic as much as any man I've ever known. He took his job to heart and tried to conduct himself with dignity in all matters related to Titanic. Yes he removed artifacts from the debris fields and had them preserved for exhibition. Now millions of people have been touched by Titanic due to his efforts. That's noble---not wrong. He risked his life many times to travel to the bottom of the ocean to accomplish the dream. He now weeps at the mismanagement of the company he once headed.

There comes a time when enough is enough and we are fast approaching that point. Over 5500 artifacts have been retrieved from the wreckage. Not all are show quality pieces, but enough are to build a permanent home somewhere in the world to commemorate Titanic's legacy. Traveling exhibitions can also continue until they aren't profitable anymore. But how many more artifacts do we need? The answer is not many more. We have enough to tell her story to the future generations. So there comes a time when the wreck should be left alone. The NOAA guidelines and the proposed treaties Tracey spoke of in her post are efforts to place this shipwreck, and others like her, off limits to salvagers who would seek to strip the carcass clean for profit (see Lusitania, Andrea Doria and other wrecks) rather than to be used for historical reference and education of future generations as RMS Titanic, Inc has done. George Tulloch has not become a millionaire as a result of pillaging Titanic. In fact, for years he took no corporate pay check while doing his work 12 to 16 hours every day. But this cannot be said for other salvagers and it is becoming clear that modern technologies make it easy to strip wrecks clean for profit if someone doesn't intervene. NOAA and the treaty offer a start to that protection process.

Yes, Titanic is a gravesite. That's why George Tulloch never tried to strip the interior of the wreck (and in fairness, the court would not have let him do so.) The Egyptian tombs are gravesites, yet they are explored and exploited. Pompei's ruins, ancient Mayan and Incan cities, Indian ruins of the old Southwest U.S., and countless other examples across the globe are also gravesites. Man is curious and doesn't heed the warnings of those who say it is evil to tread on these sites. Graveyards are dug up and moved so modern day structures can be built on the former hallowed grounds. Don't preach the sanctity of Titanic's wreck as a grave. Yes It is a grave, but it's no different than all the other places man chooses to use for profit and curiosity fulfillment...right or wrong. And we seldom object to any of the other instances. It's okay to pillage Lusitania or Andrea Doria...just not Titanic... I might end by saying these are my opinions and reflect only my views...not those of ET or RMS Titanic, Inc., nor those of George Tulloch.

Dave Shuttle

Mark Taylor

Mar 18, 2005
Just a note to Dave Shuttle. It should be noted that an appeals court did review Judge Clarke's original ruling and found it correct save two points: the navigation and photographs. The appeals court overturned those two parts which allows anyone to dive to the wreck as well as photograph. So for those who have around $30,000 Americans, you can now dive down to the wreck and see it for yourself.

As for the proposed Titanic treaty, no word on what the new administration plans to do. A lot of people are opposed to the treaty on constitutional and philosophical grounds.

Mark Taylor
Titanic-Discuss Mailing List

Senan Molony

Jan 30, 2004
>>A friend of mine has been down to the Titanic wreck and said she was surprised to see the stars and stripes lying on the bridge.<<<

Can this possibly be true?
No offence to Americans, but the leaving of any national flag would be an act of monumental boorishness. I would be ashamed if it were my national colours flaunted in this way.

If this has happened, and I have never heard the allegation made before, then I would be profoundly saddened.

A flag left in a "conquering" manner of that kind would be disgusting. The leaving of any litter is disgusting, and yes, that includes vials of the ashes of the dead. At least Commander Boxhall had the good grace to have his ashes scattered on the surface of the sea.

Dave has indeed worded it beautifully, Ripping things off the wreck, even if they hang by a thread, is looting and pillage and nothing less.

It demeans our common humanity and our common mortality, both of which lie at the mystical heart of what the RMS Titanic stands for - not on the sea bed, but in our pooled consciousness. It violates an unsaid but surely sacred trust... as the Hippocratic Oath has it for doctors: "First, do no harm."

Cutting, wrenching, ripping things away from something that is not yours but belongs in a metaphysical way to millions of your neighbours, to millions yet unborn, and even to those that have gone before, is an attempt to callously sever some of the strands of our human continuum.

It is ugly and it is repellent. And it is wrong.

Picking things up from the debris field, whether you agree with it or not (and I respect both points of view) is of a VASTLY different nature and quality to - yes - *attacking* that ship.

People intent on leaving flags, meanwhile, should instead stick them somewhere else that the sun doesn't shine.

Finally, and on a point of information, the Lusitania is in fact the subject of an Irish Government "Underwater Heritage Order." She is as fully protected as possible. Just so you know.

The Irish Naval Service has deployed warships on site in her defence on occasions when it appeared unauthorised diving attempts might take place.

Senan in Dublin
Jan 29, 2001
1999 On March 24, the Fourth Circuit court reverses the earlier ruling, stating that RMST cannot exclude others from visiting, or photographing the TITANIC site.

Furthurmore and more importantly worth noting... In January 2000, RMSTI settles with Tulloch and Carlin, paying the former executives $2.5 million in return for their promise not to meddle in company management for 18 months. let's see, about six months from now...the tides out to be turning.

By the way...Mr.Shuttle...I am a 32 year Titanic Enthusiast, I was deeply moved by the discovery of her wreck in September of 1985. My feelings are in complete concurrence with yours. And however I have met neither George Tulloch or Paul Henri Nargeolet, I know that from the personal correspondence (snail mail) I have shared with the two over the past years, that their feelings for TITANIC also run deep.

Walter Lord shared..."The salvage controversy is over preception, and neither side will ever convince the other"..."Salvaged artifacts are fascinating to look at. (They show) life in 1912 more vividly than photos. (It is) almost like looking at old photos in three dimensions."

Probably the finest summary in regards to salvage, that I have read was contributed by Eric Kentley:

"For me, it was seeing artifacts come up from the depths after 82 years that really brought the tragedy home. An engineer's wrench from the Isle of Man, a cufflink--there are things that stop us thinking of Titanic merely as a statistic somewhere high up on a table of maritime disasters and force us to remember that there were 1,503 individuals, each with their own stories, lost that night. These artifacts are all we have to remember them by.

(Dr. Kently Senior Curator, Natonal Maritime Museum, Greenwich England)

Michael Cundiff
Carson City, NV
(PRO-Titanic Salvage)

Jim Kalafus

Dec 3, 2000
Yes, beautifully expressed.

Is it true that Mel Fisher's ashes were left aboard the Titanic? THAT is distasteful on so many different levels that I don't want to believe it.

Not quite as distasteful but almost as bizarre- Wheel Of Fortune (US version) offered a Titanic Dive as one of the prizes. Somehow, I have trouble associating Violent Death with A Desirable Prize.

I mention these things because, as I see it, they are far more unappealing than anything Mr. Tulloch was ever accused of doing.

Mike Herbold

Feb 13, 2001
You make many good points, Dave, and, as you know, the discovery of the Irwin diaries has sent me on my own personal historical odyssey.

Whenever the salvage debate rears its ugly and divisive head, the one thing that always concerns me is the possibility that there might be other letters or diaries just as interesting and significant as Howard Irwin's that could still be recovered. Items that would figuratively bring passengers back to life. Items that would make the descendants of those passengers grateful that they were recovered.

These paper items would take a lot more care and processing to restore than items like silverware, plates, or other solid pieces.

Like you, I would hope to see Mr. Tulloch involved in the process again. But that is probably not going to happen.

I have two questions. One: Knowing what you know, is there much of a possibilty of still finding such material? Two: Would the current management be more or less inclined to go to the trouble to do so?

Mike Herbold
While your sentiments may be noble Mr Shuttle, but I agree with Senan in Dublin. I was always taught that everything belongs to somebody and so it wasn't right to pick up things you found in public places and call them your own. It was just as much stealing as going into a shop and taking something without paying. I thought of this when I saw a picture of them removing a hat from the debris field. The hat was in good condition and you could imagine someone wearing it. I thought, hang on that hat will belong to somebody and even though they will have been dead a long time, what gives these guys the right to just remove it and again what are we learning by them doing it? Are they saying that the wreck of the Titanic is the only resource we have of Edwardian social history so we must scavenge around two and half miles under water to recover some extremely mundane objects?

It may be good that your family's letters were recovered but what do you think you had to loose if they had not found them? As I said it was interesting that they removed a vent from the 1st Class Smoking Room identical to the those at the Olympic factory but how significant a find is it? They found a suitcase full of books, I read in a news in brief column somewhere, that they had found a suitcase full of books and a table. Who knows, maybe one day they will find a suitcase full of clothes and a chair. What an exciting discovery that would be!!

I visited the battlefields of the First World War in Belgium and France when I was 17 and when touring there we were strictly told: 'do not look for souvenirs and behave in a dignified way as you are at a mass grave site.' Does not the same principle apply to the Titanic wrecksite? When you see objects like glasses and pipes being removed does it not make you think that all this is just an over indulgent exercise in souvenir gathering backed up with an ruthless desire to profiteer? Greed in other words.

As all the stuff they have removed so far is from the debris field, could not photographs have sufficed to satisfy our curiosity about the wreck. The photo technology nautile seems to have is vastly superior to that used by Dr Ballard. There has only been one book I have seen which gave a significant amount of space to the removed artefacts. It appeared in the bookshops in 1998 to coincide with the Titanic movie's run in the cinemas. If the artefacts are so valuable and educational, why are there not more books giving substantial coverage?

Is there not also a case that the deterioration of the wreck's physical condition may be partly arrtibuatble to the excessive number of dives and landings on it?
Jan 29, 2001
TO: Stuart Kelly

As we all here are so much aware that the word TITANIC is synonymous with the word tragedy...a tragedy which at the time of it's occurance inflicted an eternal wound on the thoughts of man. Never again was it the same. I come from humble beginnings, and so often I translate my thoughts to a TITANIC steerage class gentleman, to be frank Mr. Frederick Goodwin who, with his sights aimed at a more prosperous future for his family, embarked on the ship hailed to be "The Safest Ship Afloat"...enroute to this *new* prosperous little did they know a white monstor lay beckoning, awaiting for rendevous.

I am certain that, when the 11:40 p.m hour arrived, the night of 14 April, that perhaps Mr. Goodwin was aroused by the *bump in the night*, yet as so many on-board TITANIC felt, Goodwin remained content with his reservations that the *unsinkable ship* was in no danger. Yet, as unfortunate as the case was to culminate ...the White Star Line was so consumed in satisfying the needs of their wealthy cabin class... that they were oblivious to a worst case circumstance, in which a need would arise to accomodate the safety of their Mr. Goodwin and family.

Stuart, perhaps from your standing, you recognize the artifacts recovered from TITANIC as an educational need, or even worse yet, a dollar value.
But you and I are much different you see...I interpret the artifacts as a firm representation of a sorrowful travesty which, primarily befell a meek people. For, it was not a half of a chance to save their lives that they were offered, not even a quarter of a chance...they were only offered no chance.

I care not the cost of admission to a TITANIC Exhibit, nor of a monetary value apportioned to a TITANIC artifact....
...I see the artifacts as acting silent witness to the fraility of mankind, and when the iceman had cometh, the unnerving nature of which so frail a man would react to his fellow man. My voice cries aloud for the Goodwin family and their like.

Oh, and by the way... just the reclaiming of letters, constituting love, of a life ended, in my mind, and from the most sincere depth of my heart, is answer enough for the want to recover such a tangible connection to TITANIC. It makes it all worth it!!

Again, I need to commend Mr. Dave Shuttle for the contribution from his our family.

Michael Cundiff
Carson City, NV

Similar threads