FALSE. RMS Titanic Inc. does have ‘salvor-in-possession’ rights as a descendant of Titanic Ventures, which was the first to bring up objects from the wreck and was therefore automatically awarded those rights, but under maritime law the salvor-in- possession is an agent of the court, which ultimately retains control over the wreck. The salvor-in-possession must maintain a periodic physical presence in order to keep their status, and is permitted to remove objects from the debris field, including pieces of the ship which have fallen away from the main structure, but not to remove anything from the main wreck.
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia ruled in 2002 that RMST does not have legal title to the artefacts which they have brought up as the salvor-in-possession and cannot therefore sell them to maintain their economic position, although in some cases title may be granted to a salvor if sale of the artefacts will not recoup the cost of salvage.
RMS Titanic Inc.’s approach has been criticised by many who consider that they are exploiting the wreck for commercial gain, although the company has raised valid arguments in favour of bringing up artefacts from the wreck, pointing out that they have valuable educational and cultural benefit, and that the wreck is deteriorating rapidly and will not be there forever. It has been suggested that George Tulloch, RMST’s former president, was dismissed from the company because he had failed to bring in enough profit from the venture.
Dr Robert Ballard, who found the wreck and waived his salvor-in-possession rights by leaving it untouched, is among those who think that it should be designated a gravesite and a monument to victims of the disaster.
In 1986 this approach gained some official support with the passing of the RMS Titanic Maritime Memorial Act in the US House of Representatives, which aims to protect the wreck site from unwarranted looting, and to gain support for having the wreck declared a maritime memorial which cannot be used for profit.
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