A US company has plans to “unpack” the rapidly decaying Titanic wreckage to extract and put on display the precious artefacts that sank with the ship over 100 years ago, The Telegraph reports.
RMS Titanic Inc, a subsidiary of the Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions, has been the wreck’s sole legal salvager since 1994, which makes it the only entity permitted to retrieve items from the wreck site.
It has recovered more than 5,500 items from Titanic in eight expeditions in recent decades, from parts of the ship’s heavy metal structures to personal items like binoculars and a child's marbles.
Those items were collected from the debris surrounding the wreck that lies some 600 kilometres off the coast of Newfoundland. The firm told The Telegraph that it now wants to remove a section of the deckhouse roof using underwater robots in its hunt for artefacts inside the ship.
Britain is not on board
One obstacle is the objections of activists and descendants of more than 1,500 victims of the disaster, who say the wreck site is a mass grave and should not be touched.
Another is the British government, which wants to protect the wreck citing a historic treaty with the United States. It gives both governments the right to grant or deny licenses to enter the wreck or remove items found there.
“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 1,500 lives,” British Department for Transport and Maritime Minister Nusrat Ghani said on Tuesday during a visit to Belfast where the ship was built.
The UK signed the treaty in 2003, but it is only now that comes into force as the US ratified it at the end of last year.
However, sources at RMS Titanic Inc reportedly said the firm wants to “entirely ignore” the agreement they see as “unenforceable” and having no weight in US law.
“An expedition by an American company certainly cannot be stopped by the British government,” one insider was quoted as saying.
Act fast or it's too late, wreck hunters say
Canadian researchers discovered in 2010 that bacteria which eat away at the ship’s iron may break it down completely in 15 or 20 years.
“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,” said RMS Titanic President Bretton Hunchak.
“Why should only a few scientists be allowed to see the artefacts first hand? It’s elitist, and it’s wrong.”
One of the most precious artefacts believed to be in the wreck is the wireless radio system by Guglielmo Marconi that the crew of the Titanic used to send out distress signals overnight on 14 April 1912.
“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,” Hunchak explained.
"So we’re going to bring the Marconi and other historic artefacts up to the surface where they belong.”
The firm plans to conserve the Marconi system and put it on display at the Luxor casino in Las Vegas before putting it on a worldwide publicity tour.
On Monday, RMS Titanic Inc filed a notice of intent in Virginia federal court to retrieve the Marconi and other Titanic items. The first hearing is scheduled for this spring.