U.S. judge tells British firm it cannot sponsor sightseeing dives in international waters
As one commentator put it, "Next, the US courts will rule that one may not approach the Moon without prior agreement of the US."
NORFOLK, Va. -- A federal judge on Tuesday blocked plans for a deep-sea sightseeing expedition this summer to the Titanic shipwreck.
Judge J. Calvitt Clarke Jr. barred anyone from coming within several miles of the wreck or taking photographs or videotape of it without permission of R.M.S. Titanic Inc., which has owned the ship's salvage rights since 1994.
The company's attorney, F. Bradford Stillman, said Clarke's ruling was needed to preserve the famous shipwreck.
Deep Ocean Expeditions Ltd. will appeal the ruling barring it from ferrying adventurers to the wreck site in the north Atlantic.
Ann K. Sullivan, an attorney for the British company, said the U.S. court has no jurisdiction over the wreck in international waters. It also cannot control public picture-taking at the historic site, some 400 miles off the Newfoundland coast and 2 1/2 miles deep, she said.
"The law of the sea requires freedom of navigation and freedom to exploit the sea's resources," Sullivan said. "If we want to go down and visit the ship, that's part of freedom of navigation."
Deep Ocean Expeditions plans for the August trip include sending 60 passengers to the ocean floor in three-person submersibles. Passengers would pay about $32,000 apiece.
Clarke said the expedition would devalue RMST's rights and encourage other would-be sightseers.
"Everyone says that they will only take pictures and will not salvage artifacts. Yet artifacts are strewn across a large area of ocean floor and represent a great temptation for souvenir-hunting photographers," Clarke wrote.
RMST plans its own expedition in August, including a live broadcast from the deck of the Titanic on Aug. 16. The show will be carried on the television and will be lucrative.