The Titanic, once nicknamed the “Unsinkable Ship,” continues to deteriorate on the ocean floor. In the early hours of April 15, 1912, the luxury liner RMS Titanic struck an iceberg on its maiden voyage. Hours later, it slipped over 12,000 feet under the waves, killing 1,517 people.
The location of the wreck remained a mystery until its discovery 73 years after it sank in 1985. Due to deep ocean currents, salt corrosion and metal-eating bacteria, the wreck of the Titanic is slowly but surely taken over by Mother Nature.
Much of the deterioration of the Titanic comes from a group of bacteria named Halomonas titanicae after the ship. These bacteria consume hundreds of pounds of iron every day. When these iron-loving bacteria nibble at the steel of the sunken ship, they cause stalactite-like structures to form on the wreck. These structures look like rust-colored icicles and are known as “rusticles”.
Recently, scientists have been shocked by the rapidly deteriorating condition of the Titanic. In 2010, Henrietta Mann, who co-discovered the bacterium Halomonas titanicae, told Time magazine that there were only 30 years left on the Titanic before it disappeared. Likewise, deep sea explorer Victor Vescovo told Time in 2019 that “the wreck has been there for 107 years in strong currents and seawater, so it’s not a question of whether, but when the sea recovers it in its entirety “.
The need to document the vessel before its departure
Since the initial discovery of the Titanic in 1985, many parts of the ship have disappeared. For example, the crow’s nest, where the iceberg was first seen in 1912, has disappeared. The poop deck where passengers would have crammed when the ship sank has folded into itself. A 2019 expedition discovered that Captain Edward Smith’s tub, which had previously become visible after the outer wall of the captain’s cabin fell, has now disappeared.
Beginning in July 2021, OceanGate Expeditions will begin a series of expeditions to the Titanic wreck site, starting what is expected to be an annual chronicle of the vessel’s deterioration. With the help of wealthy tourists, experts hope to learn more about the ship and the underwater ecosystem now associated with the famous shipwreck.
The expedition includes archaeologists and marine biologists, but also around forty people who have paid to accompany it. These tourists will help the team collect images, videos, laser scans and sonar data to provide an objective basis for the current state of the wreck. These tourists will help fund the expedition by spending between $ 100,000 and $ 150,000 each.
No artifacts will resurface
Titanic historian Bill Saunder previously led research for the company that owns the salvage rights to the ship and he doubts the expedition will find “anything in the headlines.” However, he believes the expedition will help improve global understanding of the layout of the wreckage and the debris field.
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Unlike other missions on Titanic, OceanGate has no plans to recover any artifacts from the wreckage site, which makes this mission much less controversial than missions from the past. More recently, RMS Titanic, the company that owns the rights to recover the wreckage, wanted to recover the Marconi wireless telegraph machine that transmitted the ship’s distress calls. However, the proposal sparked a legal battle last year with the United States government, which claimed the shipment would violate federal law and a previous pact made with Britain to leave the wreckage intact because it it was a burial place.
This is not the first time that expeditions on the Titanic have sparked controversy. The RMS Titanic Inc. alone has recovered thousands of artifacts from the site over the years, including silverware, porcelain, and gold coins from the wreckage. This has sparked debate over whether or not recovering artifacts from the Titanic is a form of grave looting.
In 2003, Ed Kamuda, then president of the Titanic Historical Society, told The Associated Press that human activity around the Titanic should be limited. He said “let nature take back what is hers. It’s only a matter of time before it’s a brown spot and a collection of pig iron on the ocean floor.