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Inside the controversial plan to salvage the Titanic’s treasures

The Week logo The Week 28/01/2020 The Week Staff

a large ship in a body of water with RMS Queen Mary in the background © Provided by The Week An American company is planning to remove the roof of the Titanic and salvage the radio that issued the ship’s final distress signals as it sank in 1912.

Private equity backed RMS Titanic Inc. claims that it wants to preserve the relics from the wreck before they are lost forever.

But the proposal is deeply controversial, with Democratic Unionist Party MP Gavin Robinson criticising the plan to “pilfer and pillage” the famous wreck.

What exactly is the plan?

Ship bell of Titanic ship in sand © soljuska13 Ship bell of Titanic ship in sand According to documents seen by The Daily Telegraph, RMS Titanic Inc. plans to send a manned submarine down to the remains of the ship, which lie almost two and a half miles beneath the surface of the North Atlantic in treacherous ocean currents.

Three underwater robots (remotely operated vehices, or ROVs) would then be deployed on the Titanic’s deck, above the room where the wireless operators once slept and worked.

One of the ROVs would use its mechanical “manipulators” to begin to “perforate the deck plating” as the others film the proceedings.

With the roof removed, the ROV would reach out to “collect the primary high priority targets and transport them to a previously prepared subsea basket”.

Why is it controversial?

A 1911 ad for a book on the sinking of the Titanic. A pair of antique glasses is laid upon the paper.  This article was in a 1911 edition of a rural newspaper. © wwing A 1911 ad for a book on the sinking of the Titanic. A pair of antique glasses is laid upon the paper. This article was in a 1911 edition of a rural newspaper. Robinson – the MP for Belfast East, where the Titanic was built – has compared the US company to “sea-faring bandits” who wish to splice open “what is essentially a tomb to the sacrifice of those who were aboard Titanic”, The Daily Mail reports.

Relatives and survivors have also expressed concerns in the past over other plans to meddle with the wreckage.

In 2000, Millvina Dean, a survivor who was nine weeks old when the disaster occurred, told The Independent: “I think the ship should be left in peace. Any bits and pieces that have come out from the ship on the seabed – that is all right. But to go on the ship – no, that is all wrong.”

Pictures: The UK and US agree to a 'momentous' deal to protect the sunken wreck of the Titanic (Daily Mail)

However, Bretton Hunchak, the president of RMS Titanic Inc., told the Telegraph the proposals were “not some kind of Trojan horse so that we can start grabbing suitcases full of diamonds from the wreck”.

Instead, he described the voyage as “a careful, surgical operation to rescue a historically significant item so it can teach future generations about the story of Titanic”.

“We know that the wreck is deteriorating fast. Why would we let these artefacts disappear too? Surely we owe it to the future to protect and preserve these items, before it’s too late,” he added.

Is the Titanic a protected site?

There is disagreement about this, too.

The UK and US governments have signed a treaty designed to protect the wreckage of the Titanic from damage by those wishing to remove artefacts. The UK signed the treaty in 2003, but it only came into force after its ratification by Washington in November, according to The Guardian.

Although the Department for Transport says the treaty means the governments either side of the Atlantic have the power to grant or deny licences to enter the ship and remove items, and to punish unauthorised activity with large fines, others say the treaty has no power.

The Guardian reports that RMS Titanic Inc., which exists solely to salvage items from the vast debris field around the broken wreck, has argued the new treaty has “no teeth” in US law.

The company filed a notice of intent to retrieve items from the ship at the US district court in eastern Virginia earlier this week.

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