Titanic Radio That Sent Distress Signal Can Be Retrieved from Atlantic Ocean, Judge Says

A federal judge ruled in favor of a salvage company that plans to retrieve the Marconi wireless telegraph machine from the Titanic, overturning an order made in 2000 preventing anyone from cutting into the wreck or detaching any part.

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith from the Eastern District of Virginia announced the decision on Monday, citing the cultural and historical importance of the shipwreck and acknowledging how vulnerable the wreckage is to decay, the Associated Press reports.

The ruling follows a survey of the wreck completed last year, which discovered shocking levels of deterioration, with key features, such as the captain's bathtub, having already been lost. Experts say the damage is caused by metal-eating microbes gnawing at the wreck, as well as erosion from saltwater and ocean currents.

The Titanic became one of the most famous shipwrecks in the world after striking an iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean and sinking on April 15, 1912, killing around 1,500 of its 2,200 passengers. The ship was found eight decades after the accident, when a team of French and American scientists came across the wreck in 1985.

Smith said that salvaging the radio will "contribute to the legacy left by the indelible loss of the Titanic, those who survived, and those who gave their lives in the sinking," AP reports.

The decision remains strongly opposed by many, including officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who say the site—which is surrounded by the remains of hundreds of passengers—should be left "in situ." NOAA additionally argued that the expedition would not be allowed either by federal law or under an agreement between the U.S. and U.K., and has previously said salvaging should only go ahead once a "scientific, cultural, or educational justification" has been determined.

In response, Smith wrote the arrangements by RMS Titanic Inc. would meet the requirements of the international agreement as well as other conditions, such as salvaging the site for scientific and cultural reasons.

Titanic, during trials in Belfast
A U.S. judge has approved an operation that seeks to retrieve the radio of the Titanic, pictured here on trials in Belfast Lough. Topical Press Agency/Getty

A 60-page document lays out the company's plan on how to reclaim the radio, which is thought to have sent out the distress signals when the ocean liner hit an iceberg on April 14, 1912. These include sending an unmanned submersible into the wreckage, AP reports. Once the expedition is complete, RMS Titanic Inc. hopes to display the telegraph alongside the stories of those who made the distress calls.

"Provided with electrical power and managed by new-manufactured condenser, transformer, regulators and phase-matched antenna, Titanic's radio—Titanic's voice—could once again be heard, now and forever," the documents stated, The Telegraph reported earlier this year.

Titanic's survivors return to England
The first of the Titanic's survivors to return to England arrive at Plymouth on May 1912. Around 1,500 of the ship's 2,200 passengers lost their lives when the Titanic sank. Paul Thompson/Archive Photos/Getty