Telegraph from WWI Lusitania Shipwreck Hauled Up from the Deep

Divers recovered the main telegraph machine from the Lusitania wreck.
Divers recovered the main telegraph machine from the Lusitania wreck. (Image credit: DAHRRGA)

Divers have recovered the main telegraph machine from the Lusitania, the wreck at the center of one of the most infamous maritime disasters of the 20th century.

Irish heritage officials confirmed that the telegraph was recovered and brought to the surface Tuesday (July 25) and is now undergoing conservation on land. [Sunken Treasures: The Curious Science of 7 Famous Shipwrecks]

The bronze artifact was "undamaged and in excellent condition," Heather Humphreys, Ireland's minister for culture, heritage and the Gaeltacht (areas where Irish is still spoken), said in a statement.

The Lusitania was the largest ship in the world when it made its maiden voyage in 1907. The British ship was bound forLiverpool after a transatlantic crossing in 1915, when it was struck by a torpedo from a German submarine off the southeast coast of Ireland during World War I. It sank in just 18 minutes.

Of the 1,962 passengers and crew aboard at the time, 1,198 died, most of them from drowning and hypothermia. The attack on civilians prompted diplomatic outrage. Munitions have been found at the wreck site, but it's still up for debate whether the ship was a legitimate military target. As 128 Americans were killed in the disaster, the event helped push the United States into World War I.

The 787-foot-long (240 meters) shipwreck now lies on its starboard side, at a depth of about 300 feet (91 m) off the coast of County Cork. Retired American venture capitalist Gregg Bemis has been the sole owner of the wreck since 1982 and has occasionally clashed with the Irish government over his plans to explore the wreck and recover artifacts, according to a profile in Fortune. Bemis is particularly interested in investigating the cause of the second explosion that rocked the Lusitania after the initial torpedo strike, which could help to explain what made the ship sink so quickly.

The telegraph was recovered and brought to the surface on July 25, 2017. (Image credit: DAHRRGA)

The successful recovery of the telegraph comes after a failed attempt to raise the artifact along with its pedestal in July 2016. Details of that botched mission came to light in March, when an Irish parliamentary committee heard that a diver working on behalf of Bemis lost the telegraph when the lift bag bringing the artifact to the surface burst. Ireland's National Monuments Service was criticized for allowing the private operation to go ahead without an archaeologist present.

Recreational divers spotted the lost telegraph this month and marked its position on the seabed. Bemis and government officials gave approval for the artifact to be brought to the surface—this time, under the supervision of an archaeologist, according to the announcement from Humphreys.

Bemis plans to put the telegraph and the pedestal on display in a local museum, along with other artifacts that have been recovered during earlier dives, "which is great news for the local community," Humphreys said.

Editor's Note: This article was updated to clarify that munitions were found at the site, though there is debate over whether the ship was a military target.

Original article on Live Science.

Megan Gannon
Live Science Contributor
Megan has been writing for Live Science and since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.