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Titanic Sightseer Appeals Ruling

October 30, 1998

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) _ A man who hopes to take a sightseeing tour of the Titanic asked an appeals court Thursday to overturn a judge’s ruling barring anyone but the company that salvaged it from making money off the wreck.

``No state may exercise sovereignty over the high seas,″ said Alex Blanton, attorney for Phoenix businessman Christopher Haver, who wants to view and photograph the ship 400 miles off Newfoundland.

U.S. District Judge J. Calvitt Clarke Jr. ruled that an American salvage company, R.M.S. Titanic Inc., had exclusive rights to excavate, view and photograph the wreckage.

In June, Clarke ruled against plans by a British company, Ocean Expeditions Ltd., to ferry about 60 tourists, including Haver, to the site. Clarke said the expedition would devalue R.M.S.’s rights and encourage other would-be sightseers.

Most of the tourists dropped out, but last month about a dozen defied the judge’s order and made the dive anyway, becoming the first tourists to view the ship 2 1/2 miles under the Atlantic Ocean. They could face contempt of court charges.

Blanton argued that the right to visit or photograph the wreck is not inherent in R.M.S.’s salvage rights.

``There is no court that can exercise jurisdiction over the Titanic,″ he said. ``It would be an exercise of sovereignty over the high seas. The right to visit and photograph is a high seas freedom.″

Not so, said R.M.S. attorney F. Bradford Stillmam. Laws governing wrecks in the deep ocean emanate from treaties and agreements among various countries and any judge in any nation can claim jurisdiction by ``arresting″ a wreck when a salvor, in this case R.M.S., brings an artifact to that court, Stillman said.

R.M.S. contends that it has provided a public service by preserving Titanic artifacts and not selling them. To finance salvage work, the company makes money by exhibiting the artifacts and licensing the film rights.

The Titanic sank in 1912 after striking an iceberg on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York. More than 1,500 people died.

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