Firm wants to recover the Titanic's iconic telegraph machine

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1912 AP

FILE - In this April 10, 1912 file photo the Titanic leaves Southampton, England on her maiden voyage. The salvage firm that has plucked artifacts from the sunken Titanic cruise ship over the decades is seeking a judge's permission to rescue more items from the rapidly deteriorating wreck. (AP Photo/File)

NORFOLK, Va. – The salvage firmthat hasplucked silverware, china and gold coins from the wreckage of the Titanic now wants to recover the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Machine that transmitted the doomed ship's increasingly frantic distress calls.

Lawyers for the company, R.M.S. Titanic, Inc., called witnesses before a federal judge on Thursday to explain why the company should be allowed to possibly cut into the rapidly deteriorating ship to recover the device before it's irretrievable.

“It's one of those iconic artifacts, like the signal flares (that the sinking ship launched),” testified David Gallo, an oceanographer who retired from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and is now a paid consultant for the firm.

Gallo, who testified in federal court in Norfolk, Virginia, said that salvaging the device would not be “grave robbery” buta way to connect people to the ship's legacy and honor its passengers.

U. S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith, the maritime jurist who presides over Titanic salvage matters, said it was too early for her to make any decisions on the proposal. She said she needed more details and proposed scheduling another hearing sometime in the future.

The Titanic was traveling from England to New York when it struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912. The large and luxurious ocean liner sent out distress signals using the relatively new Marconi wireless radio system.

The messages were picked up by other ships and onshore receiving stations. They included: “We require immediate assistance” ... "Have struck iceberg and sinking" ... "We are putting women off in boats."

The ship sank in less than three hours, with the loss of all but 700 of the 2,208 passengers and crew.