Is salvaging Titanic’s radio room equipment grave robbery or an allowable intrusion?

Is salvaging Titanic’s radio room equipment grave robbery or an allowable intrusion?

More than a hundred years ago, the British passenger ship wrecked the RMS Titanic. As we reported on February 19, there is a controversial plan to secure the radio equipment from the radio room. It is controversial because the Titanic is also the final resting place of many victims.

However, a federal judge in Virginia has now given permission to salvage the equipment that sent the sinking Titanic distress signals. However, the question is whether this permission will continue …

RMS Titanic Inc. is the only company allowed to store items around and on the Titanic. So they now asked Judge Smith for permission to take the Marconi radio equipment out of the ship. The company said it would try to avoid cutting the ship. There is a skylight that is already open and may be large enough to store the equipment.

According to the recovery company, the radio station could unlock some secrets about missed ship’s emergency calls. “It tells an important story,” said Concannon, a lawyer for the company. “It tells about the heroism of the operators who save the lives of 705 people. They worked until the water sloshed at their feet. ”

Opposition from NOAA

However, the legal battle is not yet over. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) states that salvage is still prohibited under US law and an international agreement between the US and the UK.

In April they already filed a court opposition to the recovery effort. According to NOAA, the potential benefits of a salvage would not outweigh the damage to the ship. Nor would it serve the public interest.

The salvage would be the first time that an object has been removed from the wreck. Until now, no one was allowed to enter the ship. Many believe that the interior of the ship should remain undisturbed as it is the final resting place of more than 1,500 casualties

The wreck lies about 4 kilometers below the sea surface on the ocean floor and remained undiscovered until 1985. R.M.S. Titanic Inc. wants to use a manned submarine to reach the wreck. From there, she plans to use a remote-controlled submarine to “free” the radio equipment.

Multiple radio tuner, made by Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Company, England, circa 1908.

Used with spark receivers on both land and sea. The tuner was connected between the aerial and the detector in order to select the receiving frequency. This type of technology was superseded during the First World war (1914 - 1918).

This equipment is the same model as that used on the radio system on the Titanic ship at the time of the disaster in 1912.

Three controls on the top adjust the tuning of the aerial, detector and intermediate tuned circuits; the controls are variable capacitors. On the front, the left hand control adjusts the aerial tuning inductance and the right hand control perates three ganged switches, which set the tuning range of the three controls on top. The knife switch on the top selects between standby and tuned modes.

The item on the left hand front corner is the micrometer spark gap. This was provided to bypass the radio frequency energy coming from the transmitter when the key was pressed. There was no mechanical transmit/receive switching apart from the back contact of the key which would short the headphones when the key was pressed. This allowed ‘break-in’ operation where the operator would be able to hear another station trying to break in during the sending of a message.

Physical Description

Wooden box with composition front panel and top. The top holds three large brass and composition controls, four terminals, one knife switch and a brass housing. The front panel holds one rotary switch and a three ganged switch. On one end is a rotary control.

The wooden box is of course gone but all copper (wiring) and large brass and composition controls, four terminals, one knife switch and a brass housing as well as the front panel’s rotary switch and a three ganged switch and rotary control will still be in more or less good condition. How do you scoop up, with a remote vehicle, all this radio debris without destroying or damaging it is beyond me. Please leave it to rest there, it suits no purpose.

The motor generator which powered the transmitter is an item that could have survived in a rather good condition. It is heavily bolted down, how do you handle that with a remote vehicle?

What a load of crap … there is not one molecule of anyone remaining in that wreck. The bodies have been dissolved for many decades.

It is only mildly amusing that terrestrial archeologists are digging up the wrecks of old cities and tombs as fast as they are discovered but no one utters a word unless some social or economic benefit accrues to them by drawing attention to some perceived slight. The only thing the archeologists complain about are “amateur” diggers who cheat them out of publishing or celebrity rights.

How many construction projects have been cancelled in major cities because a real grave including its occupant has been found? Is there any complaint about the Dutch method of dealing with cemetery overcrowding?

A lot of ships have sunk, a lot of mariners went down with them but since no one made a movie or wrote enough books about them there is no parade of snowflakes lining up to protest salvage or or even academic archeological study.

Doesn’t leaving it there constitute irreparable damage and loss? Why is that preferable? Should every amphora and every piece of every sunken vessel residing in a museum be taken out to deep water and dumped overboard?

1 Like

You are right about the resting place. I suppose that almost all passengers ended up either in the lifeboats or perished at the ocean’s surface. Only a poor lost souls might have gone down with the ship.

Internationally some wrecks have been recognized as grave sites which should not be disturbed. It is all about emotions running high and indeed no grave sites for all the many thousands of cargo ships without passengers that went down. All those drowned crews donot create large emotions…

1 Like

We are just the “help”.

If any crew or passengers are still hanging around down there and haven’t gone towards the light or maybe the bilge, I would suspect the radio removal is the least of their issues and might give them something to watch. Probably boring down there…

What makes them think much of the equipment even remains? Or enough to be put on display? Surely many components are corroded or dissolved decades ago, if it wasn’t destroyed when the bow impacted the seafloor.

1 Like

That is not really part of the issue. If they think it is worth the cost of an exploratory dive then that is their decision. The issue is that some group or agency believes they have the right to deny that choice based on “feelings” or some other highly emotional condition or point of view.

1 Like

That’s overly cynical.

Steamer’s right, nothing remains of humans … even if that were not the case I’d be all right with it, The diver may have some issues tho … yo, dude, let go of that microphone!! (key actually)

What is the difference between the Titanic radio room and the Hunley? Oh, yeah, the Hunley was still full of dead guys and Dixon’s watch and lucky dollar makes for a popular museum display.


Schematic of Marconi Multiple tuner.

Prior to the introduction of the Multiple Tuner by the Marconi Wireless Company, receivers had only limited tuning ability which left them with no effective way of discriminating between the signals of multiple simultaneous transmitters. For wireless to be of commercial value, the ability to distinguish between multiple transmitters was a must.

The famous patent 7777 described the Marconi Multiple tuner. See picture above. The tuner was a major milestone in radio development and introduced several new technologies, including:

  • Tuned Circuits
  • Variable Inductance (Variocouplers)
  • Variable Condensers

The Multiple Tuner consists of a set of three LC circuits each made up of a variable condenser and a variocoupler (see the diagram above). By selecting the appropriate combination of taps on the aerial tuning inductance, variable condensers and the variocouplers, the operator could tune over a range of 80 to 2600 meters.

The inductors L1 ans L2 together with C1 is in fact a bandfilter which adds enormous selectivity to the receiver. Nearby interfering signals are effectively cut off by the filter.

George H. Clark Collection, Smithsonian Institution

The Marconi Valve Tuner was the first Fleming valve, in fact a diode, receiver to be widely deployed by Marconi in both land and ship stations circa 1912 including the Titanic. This was the heart of the receiver with either a Valve or earlier a magnetic detector and received the signals to detect from the Multiple Tuner.

What a bunch of hypocrites!

It was a PR coup for NOAA to rob the Hunley grave to get Dixon’s loot from among his bones but they seem to be having a hissy fit because someone else wants to recover an historical bit of radio apparatus from a pile of rusting iron with no trace of human remains.


The wireless installation of R.M.S. Titanic.

This very good and complete article by Douglass A. Kerr tells you all you want to know about the Titanic’s radio room equipment.

I think it depends on how long ago the ship sank. Like any other such site- are there living survivors or descendants of those lost? I was part of the crew that initially found a certain WWII wreck several years ago off the East Coast and that info was kept quiet until the government that owned the vessel was formally notified. I believe there are living descendants of some of the crew (all of whom were lost) Now, recreational divers visit the wreck, which is considered a war grave, but not totally off limits.

TItanic is much older, all survivors are now deceased, there are few if any known living children of those lost and the wreck has been charted, scanned, mapped, photographed, sampled, poked and prodded ad infinitum. There are lots of artifacts that have been recovered taken to museums. The ship is now disintegrating rapidly due to bacteria and time. If they want to try and salvage the radio then I say let them have at it. In fact, I’d love to be out there with them.

1 Like

Personally, I get really tired of seeing scuba divers taking portholes, EOTs, and artifacts from shipwrecks off the coast of New Jersey. It shows little respect for those who died in the wreck.

1 Like

This is what I was thinking. It will soon be a stain on the seafloor. If anything remains to be salvaged, for the sake of rememberance and preservation of history why not salvage what little is left to be salvaged? Let future generations put eyes on an actual piece of history that is on display somewhere. And that includes descendants.