Norfolk judge grants salvage award for Titanic artifacts
By Tim McGlone - The Virginian-Pilot
A federal judge has granted a salvage award to the company that maintains thousands of Titanic artifacts, but it remains unclear how the company will collect the estimated $110 million value of the pieces.
U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith late Thursday issued an opinion granting RMS Titanic Inc. an award equal to 100 percent of the fair market value of the artifacts.
But she said she will take up to another year to decide "the manner in which to pay the award," according to a court filing.
RMS Titanic Inc. and its parent, Premier Exhibitions Inc., has been battling in court for years to get title to about 5,500 Titanic artifacts that were lifted from the North Atlantic during company-run salvage operations over the past 20 years.
The federal court here, in the 1990s, awarded the company salvor-in-possession status, meaning the company had exclusive rights to salvage Titanic artifacts. But the court has maintained a tight control over what the company could do with the objects, including strictly prohibiting selling them.
The Titanic sank in the North Atlantic in 1912 on its maiden voyage. The company plans an expedition to the wreck site next week. Company-hired scientists will assess the deteriorating condition of the shipwreck.
The fate of the Titanic artifacts has been the subject of a federal court case here for more than 15 years. Smith heard six days of testimony last fall to help her determine the value of the artifacts.
Premier officials expected the ruling to come in two parts. The judge could have made the extreme decision to award the company nothing, or a percentage of what appraisers pegged as the artifacts' value.