The Supreme Court refused to reopen a case last week from a Virginia appeals court allowing adventure-tour operators to conduct deep-sea excursions to the wreck of Titanic.
The high court let stand a decision handed down in March by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals which held that RMS Titanic Inc., the company holding exclusive rights to salvage the great ship
's artifacts, could not prohibit "visiting, viewing, searching, surveying, photographing and obtaining images of the wreck or the wreck site as long as these activities do not constitute any salvage effort or interfere with RMST's salvage rights."
Titanic collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank on its maiden voyage
in 1912. The ship's wreckage, about 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland, was not discovered until 1985. R.M.S. Titanic Inc. has since salvaged thousands of artifacts from the sunken ship
, which it has exhibited throughout the world. It has not sold any of the artifacts to private collectors.
U.S. District Judge Calvitt Clarke Jr. in Norfolk, Va., upheld the company's exclusive salvage rights to Titanic several times and, last year, barred a British company, Deep Ocean Expeditions Ltd., from catering to tourists willing to pay $32,500 per person to dive down to and photograph the wreckage.
Allowing such visits would unduly harm the salvage company, Clarke ruled, because it needs exclusive photographic rights to finance its work.
The successful movie Titanic, which won the 1998 Academy Award for best picture, included footage of the shipwreck shot by director James Cameron and his crew before Clarke's ruling. The 4th Circuit partially reversed Clarke's ruling, sparking the appeal acted on by the high court this week.
In their petition for certiorari, lawyers for the salvage company said the appeals court ruling
"leaves a gaping hole" in admiralty law "which will encourage lawlessness and anarchy on the high seas."