Hidden treasures inside the wreck of RMS Titanic will be recovered for the first time under controversial plans opposed by the British government, the Telegraph can reveal.
A private US company has unveiled plans to "surgically remove" a deckhouse roof so it can retrieve precious artefacts including a Marconi wireless system described as "the most famous radio in the world".
Backed by private equity firms, RMS Titanic Inc has been the ship's official salvor-in-possession for nearly thirty years and is the only entity permitted to remove items from the wreck site.
Until now, thousands of items recovered by the company from the Titanic have all been retrieved from the vast debris field surrounding the wreck.
Taking artefacts from inside the vessel itself would be the most significant salvage operation since the Titanic was re-discovered in 1985, and will raise fierce objections from campaigners and families who say the wreck is a mass grave and should be left in peace.
But Bretton Hunchak, president of RMST, said the Titanic is deteriorating so quickly that precious items inside the sunken vessel - including the Marconi wireless - must be "rescued" for future generations before they are lost forever.
"Of course we recognise and respect the tragedy of what happened. But the hard truth is that we need to share what we can see with the rest of the world," he told the Telegraph.
"Why should only a few scientists be allowed to see the artefacts first hand? It's elitist, and it's wrong.
"The Marconi wireless can teach us so much about the last moments of the Titanic, and the heroes who died that night. The ship is deteriorating and if we don't take action now, we'll be too late.
"So we're going to bring the Marconi and other historic artefacts up to the surface where they belong."
The company plans to use underwater robots to remove a section of roof before delicately extracting the wireless. If successful, the Marconi will be carefully conserved and put on display at the Luxor casino in Las Vegas, before being taken on a publicity tour around the world.
The plan, however, is opposed by the British and US governments which will on Tuesday unveil an "historic treaty" designed to protect the Titanic from sightseers and scavengers.
During a visit to Belfast, where the liner was constructed, maritime minister Nusrat Ghani will declare that ministers now hold the power to deny licences for exploration and artefact removal.
"This momentous agreement with the United States to preserve the wreck means it will be treated with the sensitivity and respect owed to the final resting place of more than 1500 lives," she will say.
Sources at RMS Titanic Inc, however, said the firm intends to "entirely ignore" the British-led agreement because it is bound only by the jurisdiction of US courts.
"This so-called treaty is totally unenforceable, and has no weight in US law. And an expedition by an American company certainly cannot be stopped by the British government," one insider told the Telegraph.
Under the terms of its official "salvor-in-possession" status granted in 1993, RMST must secure permission from a judge for every salvage expedition.
On Monday, the company filed a detailed notice of intent to retrieve the Marconi and hundreds of other Titanic items at the United States District Court in Eastern Virginia. The first hearing is due to take place in the spring.
A spokesman for the Department of Transport said: "A legal case being brought by a private US company is not one for the UK Government to respond to.
"UK citizens and UK vessels must abide by The Protection of Wrecks (RMS Titanic) Order."