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Titanic Discoverer Warns of Destruction

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Captain Went Down with the Ship
Ship Not Unsinkable After All

Passengers Famously Separated by Class
Ship Historic Before It Sailed
Rediscovered but Still Holding Secrets
Still Capturing the Popular Imagination

Robert Ballard, whose team discovered the wreck of the Titanic a few decades ago, says that the aging ship is in danger of wholesale destruction because of a sharp increase in tourist attention. Much of that traffic is no doubt due to the 100th anniversary of the sailing (and sinking), but Ballard still says that something should be done to keep the public away, or the wreck will deteriorate beyond recognition.

Ballard thinks that the wreck of the Titanic is a historical artifact and should be treated as such. The ship, at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean about 380 miles off Newfoundland, has been the destination for many since Ballard and his team discovered it in 1985. The story of the Titanic has captivated people for the 100 years since its destruction. In the past few years alone, film crews from dozens of media outlets have returned to the site to get fresh shots of what is left of the giant ocean liner. Many tourists are willing to pay the large sums of money needed to hire private expeditions to the depths and surrounds. One couple was so taken with the Titanic story that they had their wedding in a submersible that landed on the Titanic deck for the ceremony.

Ballard, who took only photos the first time around and returned a year after finding the wreckage only to place a bronze memorial plaque on the stern, made a conscious decision not to bring back up truckloads of treasure, but other people have certainly done so. Most of these artifacts can now be found in museums, but some have no doubt made their way into the hands of private collectors.

A U.S. District Court in 1994 awarded salvaging rights to a company titled RMS Titanic Inc. This company has conducted multiple expeditions since and has recovered more than 5,000 historical artifacts. As is the case with most shipwrecks, no company owns the ship anymore. And since no "police" monitor the wreckage site with any sort of force, Ballard is suggesting that some sort of continual monitoring be set up.

Ballard's first idea would be to deploy "robot sentries," which would report to authorities any activity in the area. Questions about financing such expeditions would no doubt endanger such an effort, especially if it is meant to be ongoing. Much of the ship has deteriorated in the 100 years since it sank, but a good part of it is intact, and Ballard wants it to remain so, as do many descendants of the passengers who made the fateful voyage.

One other idea put forward by Ballard is to paint the ship in its entirety. Such an effort would require nearly constant activity and, of course, a good deal of money. But painting the wreckage of the Titanic would serve dual purposes of keeping it looking halfway decent and keeping treasure-seekers out of the way until the painting is done. Ballard has applied for a permit to begin painting.

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