The Titanic is disappearing. The iconic liner that was sunk by an iceberg is now slowly succumbing to metal-eating bacteria: holes are invading the wreckage, the crow’s nest has already disappeared, and the ship’s iconic bow railing could collapse at any time .
In the race against the inevitable, an underwater exploration company’s expedition to the wreckage site could begin this week, 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 as well as the underwater ecosystem that the wrecks generate.
“The ocean is taking this thing, and we have to document it before it all goes away or becomes unrecognizable,” Stockton Rush, president of OceanGate Expeditions, said Friday from a ship heading for the wreck site of the ‘North Atlantic.
The 109-year-old liner is battered by ocean currents and bacteria that consume hundreds of pounds of iron per day. Some have predicted that the ship could disappear in a few decades as holes dig in the hull and sections disintegrate.
Since the vessel’s discovery in 1985, the 100-foot forward mast has collapsed. The crow’s nest from which a lookout shouted: “Iceberg, straight ahead!” faded away. And the poop deck, where passengers gathered when the ship sank, has folded into itself.
The gymnasium near the grand staircase collapsed. And a 2019 expedition found that the captain’s haunting tub, which became visible after the exterior wall of the captain’s cabin fell, was gone.
âAt some point you would expect the very iconic bow railing to have collapsed,â Rush said.
The company has equipped its carbon fiber and titanium submersible with high-definition cameras and multibeam sonar equipment, Rush said. Mapping the decay can help scientists predict the fate of other wrecks in deep water, including those that sunk during the World Wars.
OceanGate also plans to document the site’s marine life, such as crabs and corals. Hundreds of species have only been seen on the wreck, Rush said.
Another objective will be the debris field and its artifacts. David Concannon, an OceanGate advisor who has been on various Titanic expeditions, said he had previously followed a trail of “light debris and small personal effects like shoes and luggage” for 1.2 miles.
The expedition includes archaeologists and marine biologists. But OceanGate also brings in about 40 people who have paid. They will take turns using the sonar equipment and performing other tasks in the five-person submersible.
They fund the expedition by spending between $ 100,000 and $ 150,000 each.
âSomeone paid $ 28 million to go with Blue Origin to space, not even the moon,â said Renata Rojas, 53, of Hoboken, NJ. “It’s not expensive in comparison.”
Obsessed with the Titanic since childhood, Rojas said she began studying oceanography in hopes of one day discovering the wreck. But it was found the same year, prompting him to pursue a career in banking instead.
âI kind of need to see it with my own eyes to know it’s really real,â she said.
No “headline news”
Bill Sauder, a Titanic historian who previously led research for the company that owns the rights to the ship’s salvage, said he doubted the expedition would find “anything in the headlines.” But he said it would improve the world’s understanding of the layout of the wreckage and the debris field. For example, he would like to have confirmation of where he thinks the ship’s kennels are located.
OceanGate won’t be removing anything from the site, making this expedition much less controversial than another company’s now scuttled plans to retrieve the Titanic’s radio.
RMS Titanic, the company that owns the rights to recover the wreckage, wanted to display the radio equipment because it had broadcast the Titanic’s distress calls. But the proposal sparked a legal battle last year with the U.S. government. He said the expedition would break federal law and a pact with Britain to leave the wreckage intact as it is a burial site.
Almost 700 of the approximately 2,200 passengers and crew died after the ship struck an iceberg in 1912.
The legal battle ended after the company indefinitely delayed plans due to complications from the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s possible that not everyone approves of this next assignment.
In 2003, Ed Kamuda, then president of the Titanic Historical Society, told The Associated Press that human activity, including tourism and expeditions, must be limited. He said the site should be a mere maritime memorial and left alone.
âLet nature take back what is hers,â he said. “It’s only a matter of time before it’s a brown spot and a collection of pig iron on the ocean floor.”