WASHINGTON (CP) - The United States is taking legal steps to protect the Titanic wreck off Newfoundland from scavengers.
But there's a lot of concern among some as the government moves in, 95 years after the supposedly unsinkable ship disappeared below the harsh North Atlantic waves.
David Bederman, an adviser for the company with salvage rights, which owns many Titanic artifacts currently on display in Toronto and Victoria, isn't convinced it's a good idea.
"We're concerned about bureaucrats trying to manage a common resource," said Bederman, an Atlanta law professor who has helped Premier Exhibitions and its parent company, RMS Titanic Inc., obtain an ironclad legal claim to more than 6,000 relics such as coins, diaries and cufflinks.
"It could make things worse."
The U.S. State Department has sent legislation to Congress to comply with a deal struck with Canada, France and the United Kingdom to protect the site.
Only the U.K. has officially endorsed the treaty. Canada's efforts have failed to result in legislation.
The famed passenger liner was on its maiden voyage when it struck an iceberg and sank April 15, 1912, taking some 1,500 people down with it.
Premier, which obtained salvage rights to the Titanic nearly 15 years ago and promised to keep the artifacts together, has been trying to monitor the site, said Bederman, a maritime law expert.
And it doesn't have to be on the spot to do it, he said, thanks to satellite tracking systems and accounting for the handful of submersibles around the world capable of diving that deep.
The U.S. State Department, though, is determined to ensure that the Titanic is designated an international maritime memorial.
"This is an icon that is known around the world," said Ole Varner, who helped write the legislation at the U.S. National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration.
"This is moving away from finder's keepers. It's important to try to get out front on taking the recognized international archeological standards and putting them into law."
The government, said Varner, could be a good partner for the custodians of Titanic.
U.S. officials are hoping the move will spur Canada and others to finally endorse the first international deal of its kind.
"We're hoping Canada and France will ultimately join," said Varner. "We're reaching out to other nations with submersible capability," especially Russia.
The U.S. legislation, which faces a long winding path through Congress, would set up a permit system for future salvage operations.
It was originally sent to Congress last year but didn't go anywhere.
It was sparked, in part, by rumours of scavengers on Titanic, a swath of tangled steel with a far-flung debris field about 650 kilometres southeast of Newfoundland.
"We don't have evidence of looting but there are some suspicions there," said Varner, including talk of one unauthorized expedition.
American Robert Ballard, who found the world's most famous shipwreck 3,800 metres below the ocean's surface in 1985, returned in 2004 on a NOAA expedition that found evidence of deterioration.
It's not known, said Varner, whether that's from looting or simply the passage of time.
Ballard, who also made the first detailed study of the wreck, has long called attention to the problem of shipwrecks being stripped by salvagers.
"The deep sea is the biggest museum in the world," he said. "Yet there's no lock on the
Adventure tourism groups are also landing submersible vehicles at the shipwreck.