Titanic belongs to all of us

Since March 24, Titanic historians, aficionados and ordinary Titanic buffs have been abuzz with the latest controversy surrounding the famous ship. Word has come through the Associated Press that a maritime judge in Norfolk, Virginia will soon be handing down a momentous ruling on ownership rights to the great vessel. In particular, Judge Rebecca Beach Smith will rule on the RMS Titanic, Inc.'s degree of ownership of the wreck, its artifacts, and the establishment of a monitoring system to safeguard the site.Controversy is nothing new with the Titanic. In fact, its very creation was the result of conflict and competition between two shipping companies: Cunard and White Star Lines, both of whom were vying to have the fastest, most luxurious ships to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Since the Titanic sank to the ocean floor on that fateful April night 97 years ago, arguments over ownership of the wreck and its artifacts have been waged. And to muddy the waters so to speak, the ship went down in international waters; all of the original owners have long since departed this life, and since they believed that the sunken vessel no longer had any tangible value, they left no succession of ownership. As early as 1914 schemes had been hatched to raise the Titanic, even though no one really knew the exact spot in the Atlantic of where the ship went down. And since there was no actual vessel to be had, the controversy over ownership kind of lacked sea legs. However, since geologist Dr. Robert Ballard - a Downey High School graduate - and his French/American crew found the resting place of the ship in 1985, those sea legs have been found. While Ballard and his company, RMS Titanic, Inc. was awarded ownership and salvaging rights in 1994 by a U.S. District Court, the controversy over who should own the vessels and its artifacts has not gone away. The U.S., French and English governments have all expressed opinions declaring ownership interests in the vessel. But does any government or any one country have the right to own the famous ship? My heart says "no." The passengers who died in the great tragedy came from all over the world: Italy, Germany, Sweden, Australia, Greece, France, Armenia, Poland, England, China, Spain, Austria, Scotland, Syria, America, Ireland; and these are just the countries that I have personally been able to identify through research as having citizens on the ship. Since all of these countries were represented on the ship through their citizens, no one country should have ownership of the Titanic and its artifacts. Establishing international ownership and security of the site will be a huge task. There are so many things to be considered, like the question of Ballard and RMS Titanic Inc.'s legal rights to the site. And then there are questions about how the various nations can share ownership of the site, protect it, and procure and preserve its artifacts. I strongly believe the Titanic belongs to all of us. I hope Judge Smith's ruling will honor its victims who hailed from around the world and preserve the legacy of the ship for future generations of every nation. W. Mae Kent is the author of a new novel, "Titanic: The Untold Story." Visit her online at www.titanicuntoldstory.com.

********** Published: April 3, 2009 - Volume 7 - Issue 50