‘Momentous’ protection for dissolving Titanic
Though late in the day, 108 years on from its sinking, the iconic wreck of the Titanic is set to be “more rigorously protected” under a new international agreement between the UK and the USA.
Legislation passed by both countries gives them the power to grant or deny licences authorising people to enter the Titanic’s hull sections and remove artefacts found outside the hull.
The move is designed to strengthen the basic level of protection previously afforded by the wreck’s designation as a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Site, and represents a “hugely significant step forwards”, according to the UK government.
Because of its position in international waters the Titanic had not been explicitly protected, and concerns had been growing about unregulated interference.
“Lying two and a half miles below the ocean surface, the RMS Titanic is the subject of the most documented maritime tragedy in history,” said UK Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani on 21 January. “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.
“The UK will now work closely with other North Atlantic states to bring even more protection to the wreck of the Titanic.” This will primarily mean encouraging Canada and France to join in with the agreement.
Registered in Britain and built in Belfast, the Titanic set out on its maiden voyage from Southampton on 10 April 1912, an iceberg collision ending the voyage five days later. The disaster led to the 1914 Safety of Lives at Sea Convention that still sets minimum safety standards for ships.
Ocean explorer Robert Ballard discovered the wreck in 1985 some 350 nautical miles off Newfoundland. Up to 2005, many manned submersible visits were made to the rapidly decaying wreck, including commercial tourist dives from 1998. Attempts to restart these in recent years have so far failed.
22 January 2020
Over the years some 5500 artefacts have been removed from the wreck, including a large section of the hull, by salvor-in-possession RMS Titanic Inc, and a number of these have been sold at auction.
Last year Victor Vescovo’s Caladan Oceanic organised the first scientific manned submersible dives to the Titanic in 14 years.
These revealed “shocking” deterioration through salt corrosion and iron-eating microbes turning the 50,000 tonnes of metal into “rusticles” and then powder swept away by currents.
The team described the wreck as “returning to Nature” and, according to some scientific estimates, there will be no trace of the ship left by 2030.