By Richard Simon - Sacbee
One hundred years after the sinking of the Titanic, lawmakers are moving to further protect the shipwreck site.
The R.M.S. Titanic Maritime Memorial Preservation Act would impose penalties of up to $250,000 a day and five years in prison on any U.S. vessel or American that disturbs the wreckage without permission or brings illegally recovered artifacts into the country.
"It's important to remember that this site on the floor of the Atlantic is a place where so many went to their deaths," Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the bill's sponsor, said in a statement.
It is, he added, "hallowed ground, not just some underwater area to be poked at or damaged for commercial reasons."
The Titanic, the wreck of which was found in 1985, sank off Newfoundland on its maiden voyage from Britain to New York in April 1912 after hitting an iceberg, killing more than 1,500 passengers and crew.
It lies in international waters, but the legislation seeks to thwart "looting and unscientific salvage" of Titanic artifacts - even by foreigners - by establishing penalties for bringing them into the United States and by subjecting them to seizure by the government.
Congress has addressed the Titanic disaster before, including holding hearings in 1912 and passing a bill in 1986, shortly after the Titanic was found.
That measure, signed by President Ronald Reagan, called for negotiating an international agreement that would designate the ship wreckage an "international maritime memorial" and the writing of rules for conducting research, exploration and salvage.
Marc-Andre Bernier, chairman of the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology, said in an email to the Los Angeles Times that the legislation is important "from the archaeological and historical perspective, and even more so from the solely global perspective aiming for the respect and protection of the resting place of more than a 1,000 souls."