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Admiralty – Law Of Salvage – Titanic Wreck Site

A Norfolk federal district court grants plaintiff RMS Titanic Inc.’s motion for a salvage award in this suit filed Nov. 30, 2007, of 100 percent of the fair market value of the artifacts recovered in the 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2004 expeditions to the wreck of the RMS Titanic, but the court specifically reserves the right to determine at a later time whether to pay such an award in currency or via an in specie award.

RMST has created an extensive database for every artifact that it has recovered from the wreck site, which tracks information such as the object’s exhibition and conservation history. The amount of information contained in the RMST database is impressive; the examples submitted to the court are themselves voluminous. Such efforts are critical to preserving the historical value of the artifact collection. RMST has further promoted the historical significance of the Titanic through the worldwide exhibition of the recovered artifacts, displaying the artifacts on four continents to nearly 20 million people.

As RMST has requested an in specie award granting it title to the artifacts, it comes as no surprise to the court that RMST has invested significant time, energy and resources in the care and preservation of the artifacts. Such efforts are not properly perceived as a sacrifice for the public interest, but rather as RMST making what it thinks to be a good investment in its business. Similarly, the display of the artifacts is a profitable venture, whether or not it also shares the story of the Titanic with the world. Nonetheless, the issue before the court is the degree to which the salvors have worked to protect the historical and archaeological value of the artifacts, and not their motive for doing so.

There is extensive evidence before the court of RMST’s efforts at conservation, education and exhibition, and thus, the court finds RMST’s efforts to be deserving of a salvage award that includes recognition of these efforts.

The court reserves its discretion to sell the artifacts in a judicial sale, until which time it may determined that no appropriate buyer for the collection, capable of maintaining and preserving the artifacts for the public interest, has interest in purchasing the collection at a fair market price. The court will make such determination no later than Aug. 15, 2011. Until that time, RMST may maintain possession of the artifacts pending a final decision in this case.

RMS Titanic Inc. v. The Wrecked and Abandoned Vessel (Smith, J.) No. 2:93cv902, Aug. 12, 2010; USDC at Norfolk, Va.; Robert W. McFarland, Brian A. Wainger for plaintiff; Lawrence R. Leonard, AUSA. VLW 010-3-432, 74 pp.

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