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 (R.M.S.) Titanic is perhaps the most famous shipwreck of all time. A British registered ship of 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 and 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, with 2,240 passengers and crew on board. On April 15, 1912, after striking an iceberg, Titanic broke apart and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean, taking with it 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 for its national and international significance and in many ways has become a cultural icon around the world. The disaster resulted in a number of memorials around the world. In the United States, there are major memorials in Washington D.C. and New York, as well as at Harvard University’s Widener Library

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 10 nm (34 km) 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 the Underwater Cultural Heritage.  

On May 5, 2017, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (Public Law 115-31) was signed into law. Section 113 of the Act provides that “no person shall conduct any research, exploration, salvage, or other activity that would physically alter or disturb the wreck or wreck site of the RMS Titanic unless authorized by the Secretary of Commerce per the provisions of the Agreement Concerning the Shipwrecked Vessel RMS Titanic. The Secretary of Commerce shall take appropriate actions to carry out this section consistent with the Agreement.” 

Under Article 4 of the International Agreement, each Party is to take  “appropriate actions” to enforce measures taken pursuant to the Agreement against its nationals and vessels flying its flag and to prohibit activities in its territory, including its maritime ports, territorial sea, and offshore terminals, that are inconsistent with the Agreement. 

The International Agreement entered into force on November 18, 2019, when the U.S. accepted the Agreement.  For more details see the International Agreement page. 

Additional reference information

Updated October 26, 2020