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Fears Titanic Wreck Could be Pillaged After Salvage Company Falls Into Bankruptcy



A​rchaeologists fear the Titanic wreckage will be pillaged, broken up and even raised from the seabed after the company which owns the salvaging rights sunk deeper into financial ruin.

Premier Exhibitions revealed plans to auction off its 5,500-strong collection of artifacts last month in a bid to wipe out debts estimated at up to £9 million.

Academics and relatives of Titanic victims fear for the future of the ship’s future after reports also claimed the Atlanta-based firm plans to sell off its future salvaging rights too.

It could mean private companies from across the globe could apply and subsequently raid the ship.

“It would seem they are cashing in on their rights for future salvaging,” said William Neill, an environment professor formerly at Queen’s University Belfast, who edited a 2013 book on the Titanic legacy.

“I can just imagine salvage rights being offered to amateurs from China, Japan and Australia, who are interested in Titanic exhibitions.

“The most awful scenario would be to see bits of the hull being raised from the seabed which doesn’t bare thinking about.

“There is something very unseemly about bringing into the public gaze what is essentially a grave site

“Probably the most appropriate fate is it is left to slowly decay over the next hundred years or so and for the sea to take it back.

Amid its maiden voyage between Southampton and New York, in April 1912, the “unsinkable” ship hit an iceberg about 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland.

More than 1,500 passengers of the 2,224 on board perished.

It was thought to have sunk in one piece, until, in 1985, Dr Robert Ballard found that it had cracked in two more than two miles below the surface.

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It prompted the immediate dilemma of ownership, given it sunk in international waters, but since 1994, RMS Titanic Inc has been the only company that can legally sanction a diving mission to the remains.

Archaeologists have repeatedly criticised what they say is a commercially-motivated enterprise, including in 1998, after it raised a section of the Titanic’s hull.

In June last year, RMS Titanic Inc’s parent company, Premier, filed for bankruptcy.

Its papers submitted at a bankruptcy court in Jacksonville, Florida, on May 18, said the company hopes to auction off artifacts before February 2018.

Fraiser Sturt, an associate professor of archaeology at the University of Southampton, is concerned over who, in the future, will be able to apply for salvaging rights.

“It’s a concern and my natural preference is not to see it exploited for commercial gain and leaving it to rot is not as negative as it sounds,” said Professor Sturt.

“If the Titanic was visible on land, we would not be having this discussion and it would be taken better care of.”

Katie Rosevear, from Cornwall, whose great-uncle Stephen Jenkin sunk with the Titanic, said any further salvaging of the Titanic sounded “horrific”.

The 62-year-old still wears a blue stone bracelet that Mr Jenkin gave her grandmother before boarding the ship back to work in the copper mines in Michigan.

“It should be left to rest in peace,” said the primary school teacher.

“My uncle’s body was never found and it’s a possibility his body is still aboard the ship.”

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Carpenter Simon Medhurst, whose great grandfather Robert Hitchens died with the ship, is scared the collection could be bought by an individual who does not exhibit it.

Mr Hitchens was at the helm of the vessel as it struck the iceberg and has been blamed for the disaster.

“It would obviously be a shame if it was plundered,” said the 49-year-old father-of-four, from Chelmsford, Essex.

In an added twist, James Cameron, the director of the 1997 Oscar-winning blockbuster, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, is reportedly planning to buy the entire collection for £165 million.

Along with Dr Ballard, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, and the Royal Geographical Society, the foursome want to return the artifacts to Belfast.

These include a bowler hat, a bronze cherub statue, binoculars, leather shoes, a leather bag and a jam pot.

John Creamer, who is treasurer of the British Titanic Society, added: “It would be great if it was kept in tact and the collection is not scattered and artifacts are instead returned to Belfast or kept at Greenwich.”

Liam Kennedy, a history professor at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “The collection would contribute greatly if it was included in the Titanic exhibition here.”

Premier Exhibitions failed to respond to a request for comment, but spokesman Dave Vermillion told the Mail on Sunday it was “100 per cent committed” to safeguarding the artifacts and the wreck site.

“We are looking for someone to honour and celebrate the legacy of the Titanic,” said Mr Vermillion.

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