R.M.S Titanic


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Bow of the Titianic

Photo 48: Bow of the RMS Titanic.
(NOAA Photo Library)

The Royal Mail Steamer Titanic is perhaps the most famous shipwreck in our current popular culture. A British registered ship in the White Star line that was owned by a U.S. company in which famed American financier John Pierpont "JP" Morgan was a major stockholder, Titanic was built in Belfast, Northern Ireland by Harland & Wolff for transatlantic passage between Southampton, England and New York City. It was the largest and most luxurious passenger ship of its time and was reported to be unsinkable. Titanic was launched on May 31, 1911 and set sail on its maiden voyage from Southampton on April 10, 1912; 2,240 passengers and crew were on board. On April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg, Titanic broke apart and sank to the bottom of the ocean, taking with it the lives of more than 1,500 passengers and crew. While there has been some salvage outside of the major hull portions, most of the ship remains in its final resting place, 12,000 feet below sea level and over 350 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. Its famous story of disaster and human drama has been, and continues to be, recounted in numerous books, articles and movies. Titanic has been recognized by the United States Congress for its national and international significance and in many ways has become a cultural icon. The disaster also resulted in a number of memorials around the world. In the United States, there are major memorials in Washington D.C. and New York; the Widener Library at Harvard University is another major memorial commemorating Henry Elkins Widener, a victim of the sinking. 

The 100th Anniversary of the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic on April 15, 2012 triggered significant interest in the wreck site. On January 31, 2012 in response to a request from NOAA, the U.S. National Park Service, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the International Maritime Organization issued a circular on titanic. (MEPC.1/Circ.779). The circular advised all vessels to refrain from discharging any garbage, waste, or effluent in a zone approximately 10nm2 (34km2) above the wreck. It also requested that submersibles avoid landing on the Titanic’s deck and concentrate the release of any drop weights on ascent in specific areas away from the hull portions of the wreck. The circular also requested that visitors refrain from placing plaques or other permanent memorials on the wreck, however well-intentioned.

As of April 15, 2012, the R.M.S. Titanic came under the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage, which only applies to remains that are submerged for at least 100 years. The 41 State Parties to the Convention have the authority to seize any illicitly recovered artifacts, close their ports to all vessels undertaking exploration not conducted in accordance with the principles of the Convention, and outlaw the destruction, pillage, sale, and dispersion of objects found at the wreck site. The Convention was adopted in 2001 by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to ensure better protection of underwater cultural heritage and entered into force on January 2, 2009. (UNESCO Press Release No. 2012-27). For further information please contact Ole Varmer of the NOAA General Council Office’s International Section by email or phone: (202) 482-1402.