Who owns the wreck

J

jean leysman

Guest
If Titanic was ever to be raised (if at all) then who would own her.
The White Star Line (or it's successor) or the one who undertook the venture of bringing her to the surface?
Are they legally required to show proper respect for possible remaing bodies that might still be in the ship, and if so in what way?

Jean.
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,581
371
283
Easley South Carolina
An academic point as raising the wreck isn't possible, and by the time it becomes possible, there won't be much of anything to raise.

Still, academic points are worth talking about if only to explore the legal minefield that already exists on the matter. Currently, RMS Titanic Inc has rights as salvor in possession, but while this is based on Admiralty law and is recognised by most maritime nations, it's not as if RMSTI can call on the Coast Gaurd or the Navy to enforce it's rights against foreign userpers. If somebody outside the US, Canada, or the UK was to hire a submersible and go for the gold, the US courts have no legal power to do anything about it.

Most of this I'll have to leave to the lawyers who are members of the board, but there was an interesting letter in the Titanic Commutator that deals with the matter, and one of the points that the editor made was that there are insurance companies still trading which could stake a claim as they were the underwriters who paid out on the claims. They are specifically, Lloyds of London, The Prudential and the Liverpool & London. RMSTI has made a legal settlement with the latter regarding personal effects recovered in salvage, but this arrangement excludes the hull and equipment which were underwritten by other companies, some of which are no longer in business.

I suppose Cunard would also be able to stake a claim as they came to own the White Star name and it's assets as well as it's liabilities when they took the company over.

This, I'm sure, only scratches the surface and the rest I'll leave to the lawyers. I could be way off base on some of my points. Suffice to say, it's a complicated problem.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Apr 11, 2001
4,565
4
168
There is considerable discussion on this question under the salvage thread. The landmark ruling in the Virginia Court awarded RMST (Then Titanic Ventures) sole salvage rights as long as they could provide acceptable facilities for salvage and restoration and most importantly continue to ACTIVELY salvage, with at least a recovery operation every other year to the wreck site. If that was not continued-due to lack of funding or equipment, then the wreck is considered abandonned, and the whole process of establishing sole salvor rights goes back to court, the new claimant to show at least one raised artifact to establish new claim to the wreck after abandonment- all this is in the court record in more detail. I did get to go to one of the hearings-fascinating.
 
Jul 10, 2005
676
0
86
yes, I read about those facts too Shelley, I haven't heard of an expedition planned for 2001 yet either, have you?
I didn't get to go to any of the hearings, I just recall reading the activity clause. Is that anything like the Santa Clause?


Beverly
 
G

Gavin Murphy

Guest
M,

Interesting points and I have also read about these settlements too. Nevertheless, I assume that it was simply for PR purposes, etc. After all, if were talking about personal effects, wouldn't the identifiable ones belong to the familes..to wit the Haisman watch, or whouldn't the families claim to these possesions be deemed abandoned, thus reverting ownership to the salvor in possession? Why would the insurance cos. have a right to settlement? The insurance cos. had long ago abandoned their claim to the ship, as did White Star. In fact, it (and Cunard) literally abandoned the ship itself, leaving it open to the high seas legal principle of bona vacantia (treasure trove), which permitted RMSTI to successfully stake its claim as owner/salvor in possession. Furthermore, would a statute of limitations apply here as well? Don't know, but possible, at least for civil actions arising over claims to ownership dating from 1912.

I think anyone can dive to the wreck ($$ permitting) and scoop the goods. RMSTI can bring an action, but will another court outside USA (or Virginia) accept its claim as salvor in possession? Would a foreign jurisdiction enforce that claim....don't know.

There are my thoughts and, like you, I am not learned in admiralty law, and apprecite it is a complex matter.

Comments?

G
 

Bill Willard

Member
Mar 24, 2001
272
1
148
At this point, there can be no Expedition in 2001. RMSTI's new leaders, currently under investigation, have spent tremendous amounts of money on folly and have no funds for an expedition. IFREMER is unavailable at present because of a refit of Nautile, the Russians are still mad at Geller for broken promises and non-payment issues, and Oceaneering, who owns the Magellan vehicle used in the 98 Expedition has just started litigation against Geller and crew. No one is left to go to the site.

I attended the hearing in September of 2000, and have transcripts of the cases granting RMST the salvor status. It is most interesting reading.

Bill Willard
1998 Titanic Expedition member
 
Dec 2, 2000
58,581
371
283
Easley South Carolina
Bill, your remarks on RMSTI's financial/legal woes has me wondering; what happens to their vast collection and on-going conservation efforts if they go belly up?

I'm not what you would call the biggest fan of salvage in the world, but so long as the artifacts are above water rather then under it, it would be a pity to see it all scattered to the four winds. They belong in a museum where they can get the proper care and protection.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Bill Willard

Member
Mar 24, 2001
272
1
148
There is little chance of the the artifacts being compromised right now. The shareholders of RMST have mounted an offensive, with a little help from some friends. If the current management tried to bankrupt the company, the shareholders who oppose current management would immediately file a suit against them. This would immediately snafu the entire proceedings.

There is also a strong feeling that Judge Clarke would step in, because the artifacts cannot be sold except under the strictest of circumstances. This is unique territory however. No precedent exists that remotely resembles this scenario. The one granite statement is that the artifacts must remain together, for public display, and must be cared for properly. That much would be a given.

Bill Willard
 
G

Gavin Murphy

Guest
B,

Just a thought here. What if.......

RMST went bankrupt......

Could the creditors bring an application to challenge Clarke's ruling that the artifacts stay together, claiming it is unreasonable in light of the bankruptcy and that the artifacts should therefore be sold (perhaps as a bloc) to satisfy outstanding monetary claims?

Perhaps playing devil's advocate here, but would be curious to know your thoughts?????

G
 

Bill Willard

Member
Mar 24, 2001
272
1
148
The company would retain possession until removed by Judge Clarke or Judge Smith. Filing for bankruptcy would initiate a tremendous avalanche of a response from shareholders.

When the takeover documents were signed in January of 2000, one of the stipulations was that a shareholder meeting occur to ratify the takeover. None has been held. At this point management is terrified to complete the agreement because of the poor decisions and condition of the company. There are interested parties who are on "our side" waiting for something like this to occur, to step in and really fire cannons in this arena.

No debts at this point could be too significant to kick the company into bankruptcy. It is interesting to point out that during Arnie Geller's first tenure in office, for slightly over a year, he lost the company millions and the company found itself in a $3 million hole. One particular investor loaned the company the $3 million under the condition Geller be removed immediately. He was. Now, another backer with major $$ put Geller back in, and the company has lost an estimated $12-14 million in 16 months.

The artifacts would be safe. If they were purchased as an entire collection, someone would have to pay significant millions to buy them. Only a limited amount of individuals could do it.

For Gavin's idea, I see someone within the company stepping up first to assume the debt in exchange for a change in management. The bankruptcy issue is solved, the problems with current management would be solved, and, most importantly, the artifacts would be safe and taken care of properly.

Bill