(Jan. 28, 2012) — On April 15, on the 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic’s sinking, an auction house in New York will sell off $185-million-worth of items salvaged from the wreck: Eye-glasses, antique currency, jewellery, clothing and — the pièce de resistance — a 17-tonne section of the hull ripped clean in the ship’s final violent moments.
In Halifax, the burial place of 150 Titanic victims, news of the auction prompted disgust.
“We’re into preserving and documenting — not into pillaging,” Lynn-Marie Richard, registrar for the city’s Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, told The Chronicle Herald.
The man who located the Titanic sitting upright at the bottom of the Atlantic would agree.
In 1985, only hours after he had spotted the wreck, Robert Ballard took a call from a curious ABC reporter, who asked if the legendary ship could ever be raised from the depths.
“Absolutely not,” he replied.
“In fact I would like to go and try to ensure that this memorial to 1,500 souls is left the way it is.”
Only months later, a fully equipped salvage crew set sail for Mr. Ballard’s coordinates.
Titanic survivors called them “thieves” and “pirates,” and Mr. Ballard condemned the salvagers for “perpetuating” the tragedy.
Decades later, has the taboo of “graverobbing” worn off?
Almost from the minute it sank, the Royal Mail Ship Titanic was a target for souvenir hunters. Scavengers stole nameplates and oars from the ship’s lifeboats as soon as they were dropped off in New York.
In 2008, a bloody life jacket believed to have been pulled from the body of a floating victim sold for $53,000.
Edmund Stone, a Titanic steward whose body was discovered by the Canadian cable ship Mackay-Bennett, has yielded more than $250,000 of souvenirs, including a set of keys and a silver pocket watch stopped at 2:16 a.m., the moment the 33-year-old was tipped into the icy waters of the north Atlantic.
Under a 1994 ruling by the Eastern District of Virginia, salvage rights over the wreck belong exclusively to RMS Titanic Inc., a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Premier Exhibitions. In seven expeditions to the site, the private company has pulled up 6,000 artifacts.
Eva Hart was seven years old and bound for a new life in Winnipeg when her father died in the disaster.
“To bring up those things from a mass sea grave just to make a few thousand pounds shows a dreadful insensitivity and greed,” she said in 1987, just as the first salvage expedition was setting sail.
Amid charges RMS Titanic Inc. is causing damage to the wreck site, the International Congress of Maritime Museums has barred its members from exhibiting any Titanic artifact salvaged after 1990. READ MORE