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Treasures of the Titanic

Collection under the hammer for anniversary

The largest collection of artefacts salvaged from the Titanic is to be put up for auction next year – the 100th anniversary of the world’s most famous shipwreck.

More than 5,500 items, including fine china, ship fittings and portions of hull that were recovered from the doomed ocean liner, have an estimated value of £122 million and will be sold as a single lot.

The Titanic treasures were amassed during seven trips to the wreck, which rests about four kilometres below the ocean surface in the North Atlantic.

The auction is scheduled for April 1 by Guernsey’s, a New York City auction house – but the results of the auction will not be announced until April 15, the date the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage after striking an iceberg a century ago.

The auction is subject to approval by a federal judge in Virginia whose jurisdiction has given oversight to legal issues governing the salvage of the Titanic for years.

Titanic’s sinking claimed the lives of more than 1,500 of the 2,228 passengers and crew. An international team led by oceanographer Robert Ballard located the wreckage in 1985, about 643km off Newfoundland, Canada.

US district judge Rebecca Beach Smith, who has overseen the case from her Norfolk courtroom in Virginia, has ruled that official salvage company RMS Titanic has title to the artefacts and is entitled to full compensation for them.

Judge Smith, a maritime jurist who has called the Titanic an “international treasure”, has approved covenants and conditions that the company previously worked out with the federal US government, including a prohibition against selling the collection piecemeal.

The conditions also require RMS to make the artefacts available “to present and future generations for public display and exhibition, historical review, scientific and scholarly research, and educational purposes”.

Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions, parent company of RMS Titanic, has been displaying the Titanic artefacts in exhibitions around the world.

The items include personal belongings of passengers, such as perfume from a manufacturer who was travelling to New York to sell his samples.

Premier acknowledged any future owner of the Titanic treasures must abide by the covenants and conditions.

RMS recovered artefacts from the shipwreck in expeditions in 1987, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2004.

Last year, RMS Titanic collaborated with some of the world’s leading experts in the most technologically advanced expedition to the Titanic, undertaking the first comprehensive mapping survey of the vessel with 3D imagery from bow to stern.

Some of the never-before-seen images were shown in Judge Smith’s courtroom. The most striking images involved the 3D tour of the Titanic’s stern, which lies 609.6 metres from the bow.

A camera in a remote-controlled submersible vehicle skimmed over the stern, seemingly transporting viewers through scenes of jagged rusty iron sprouting from the deck, a length of chain, the captain’s bathtub, and wooden elements that scientists previously believed had disappeared in the harsh, deep ocean environment.

The cameras did not probe the interior of the wreck, but the expedition fully mapped the wreck site, documenting the entire debris field for the first time.

The new images will ultimately be assembled for public viewing, scientists said, and to help oceanographers and archaeologists explain the ship’s violent descent to the ocean bottom.

It is also intended to provide answers on the state of the wreck, which scientists say is showing increasing signs of deterioration.

Titanic film director James Cameron has also led teams to the wreck to record the bow and the stern.

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