Travelling to the R.M.S. Titanic’s resting place some 380 miles off St. John’s, Newfoundland, is an eight-hour journey costing $250,000.
On a recent Sunday, five brave souls embarked on this adventure aboard the submersible Titan. However, the expedition, planned for eight days, encountered a hurdle as the vessel lost contact only one hour and 45 minutes in, prompting a search operation.
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Despite the inherent risks of voyaging approximately 12,500 feet below the ocean surface, the prospect of seeing the Titanic up close is an irresistible draw.
More than a hundred years after its tragic sinking, the Titanic’s allure remains steadfast. While most people content themselves with visiting Titanic-themed museums and exhibitions worldwide, those with deep pockets can opt for a first-hand experience.
Despite ethical dilemmas and the risk of damaging the historical wreck further, dives to the Titanic have been operational for over two decades. Let’s delve deeper.
The scramble to stake a claim over the Titanic wreck
The ship’s final resting place was revealed only in 1985, thanks to an expedition led by Robert Ballard, a National Geographic Explorer-at-Large, and French oceanographer Jean-Louis Michel.
Ballard, after the discovery, urged the U.S. Congress to designate the wreck as a maritime memorial. In July 1986, he placed a plaque on the ship, pleading to leave the site undisturbed as a memorial for the over 1,500 lives lost.
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Despite this plea, an intense race to salvage artifacts from the ship ensued. What initially began as an effort to document and conserve the artifacts turned into a race for profits from artifact sales and public exhibits.
In 1987, the Titanic Ventures Limited Partnership (TVLP) and L’Institut Français de Recherche pour l’Exploitation de la Mer embarked on the first official salvage mission, collecting around 1,800 items. A federal court in 1992 recognized TVLP as the exclusive salvor of the Titanic, leading to the company pushing for more salvage rights over the years.
Now known as RMS Titanic Inc., the company has conducted eight expeditions and auctioned off more than 5,000 objects, including jewelry and parts of the ship’s grand staircase. Amid these legal battles for salvage and visitation rights, tourism to the Titanic flourished, albeit expensive.
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The evolution of Titanic tourism
Various entities, including researchers, salvagers, and famous filmmakers like James Cameron, have made innumerable visits to the wreck. British company Deep Ocean Expeditions offered the first public tickets in 1998 for $32,500 each.
In 2012, expedition leader Rob McCallum announced a final round of tours after 197 visits to the wreck. The farewell tours, each spanning 12 days, hosted 20 passengers for $59,000 each.
Los Angeles-based travel firm Bluefish began conducting Titanic dives in 2002, while London-based Blue Marble partnered with OceanGate Expeditions to sell tickets for $105,129 per person in 2019 – the adjusted cost of a first-class ticket at the time of the Titanic’s sinking. OceanGate has been conducting successful expeditions since 2021, with 18 more dives planned through 2023.
Preserving the Titanic
But what repercussions do these tours have on the 111-year-old ship?
The Titanic was severely damaged upon crashing into the seabed, and the remaining structures are being consumed by iron-eating bacteria. Rapid deterioration was observed less than a decade after the wreck’s discovery. A dive in 2019 confirmed substantial sections of the ship were collapsing.
Today, the site is cluttered with trash from salvage efforts and discarded memorabilia from visitors. There were instances of inadvertent damage to the wreck, including a reported crash by an expedition submersible.
Efforts to protect the wreck continue. As it lies in international waters, it falls under basic protections granted by the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage in 2012. In 2020, the United Kingdom and United States agreed to collaborate on issuing licenses for entry and artifact removal from the site.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Titanic tourism
How much does it cost to visit the Titanic?
The cost of visiting the Titanic’s wreck site is typically very high due to the unique and technical nature of the expedition. As of the most recent estimates, it can cost up to $250,000 for the journey.
Who discovered the Titanic’s final resting place?
The Titanic’s final resting place was discovered in 1985 by an expedition led by National Geographic Explorer-at-Large Robert Ballard and French oceanographer Jean-Louis Michel.
When were dives to the Titanic made available to the public?
The public was first offered the opportunity to dive to the Titanic in 1998, when British company Deep Ocean Expeditions began selling tickets for the experience.
What impact do these tours have on the Titanic wreck?
These tours can unintentionally cause further damage to the already fragile wreck. In addition, the surrounding site has been littered with trash from salvage efforts and discarded memorabilia from visitors.
What efforts have been made to protect the Titanic wreck?
The wreck is under basic protections granted by the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage since 2012. In 2020, the United Kingdom and the United States agreed to jointly regulate entry and artifact removal from the site.