A T L A N T A, Aug. 15, 2000 -- Time is quickly running out to get inside the Titanic because its hull is deteriorating more rapidly than expected, said the president of the Atlanta-based company conducting salvage operations at the ship.
The only items recovered from the ocean liner that sank on its maiden voyage on April 14, 1912, are scattered in a debris field around the ship’s hull.
This summer’s work in the area 350 miles south of Newfoundland has led to the recovery of about 500 artifacts, including a third-class passenger’s purse with its contents intact, said Arnie Geller, president of the RMS Titanic Inc. Geller’s company is the only one authorized to salvage items from the shipwreck.
But treasures and historic artifacts still inside the ship’s hull may never be salvaged unless crews make progress within the next season or two.
Scientists have estimated that iron-eating microbes already have consumed as much as 20 percent of the bow.
Dramatic Changes in Hull
According to Geller, scientists anticipated two years ago that rapid deterioration would occur over the next five years. Divers looking at the shipwreck in recent weeks say the ship could last two more years — or could collapse like an accordion within months.
“It was dramatically different between two years ago and today. We were all very surprised,” Geller said.
David Concannon, a Philadelphia attorney who represents RMS Titanic, has recently spent 16 hours in a submersible, helping recovery operations with Titanic expedition veterans. They also were shocked when they saw the extent of deterioration.
“It’s devastating to look at. The wreck is not what you imagine when you see it on film or in books,” he said.
Geller hopes to place robotic cameras inside the hull before the scheduled Aug. 30 conclusion of this season’s expedition to record rooms that have not been seen before, in case the ship collapses.
Beyond August, the weather is too severe for further work.
In early August, U.S. District Judge J. Calvitt Clarke Jr. issued an order keeping the company from cutting into the Titanic’s hull and banning the sale of items taken from the shipwreck.
The orders came after RMS Titanic Inc. officials said they were searching for $300 million in lost diamonds and suggested they might sell “non-historical” items from the wreckage. The company has already sold chunks of coal and some coins as collateral for loans.
The court has ruled that Titanic artifacts can be sold only as a single collection for public display. RMS Titanic has raised money for salvage operations with traveling exhibitions of Titanic artifacts.