Titanic Shipwreck to Be Protected Under Treaty with the U.S.

In 1994, the company RMS Titanic Inc., a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions, became the wreck’s salvor-in-possession—the only company allowed to collect artifacts. The company has now collected more than 5,500 artifacts, including a 17-ton section of the hull that was raised out of the ocean in 1998. Some artifacts were previously auctioned off by Henry Aldridge & Son, such as a water-stained letter written by a passenger on board[4] the ship that sold for £126,000 ($163,800) as well as a violin that sold for £1.1 million ($1.43 million). Photographs taken of the wreck during expeditions allowed the company RMS Titanic Inc. to recreate digital images of the grand staircase that featured in James Cameron’s 1997 film Titanic.

For years, diving companies such as Ocean Gate[5] have commercialized diving expeditions to the wreck by making them available to tourists prepared to spend tens of thousands of dollars. The first tourists dived to the wreck in 1998 and officials believe the last confirmed trip was in 2012.

“It is difficult to ascertain the activity around the wreck of the Titanic as there is currently no regulation,” Juliet Eales, the senior press officer for the U.K. Department of Transport, told TIME in an email. The new legislation will require trips carried out by U.K. or U.S. vessels to be sanctioned by either country through a licensing process.

“Although this applies to U.K. and U.S. only, it goes a long way to restricting unregulated access as it targets many of those who are driven and equipped to carry out an expedition of this sort,” Eales added.

In any case, the opportunity for tourists to see the infamous wreck is slipping away. Scientists believe the shipwreck could disappear by 2030[6]. In August of last year, divers from Triton Submarines visited the shipwreck for the first time in 14 years and found much of it decaying.

“It was kind of a cool thing to see the ocean reclaiming it,” Patrick Lahey, the president of Triton, told the New York Times.[7] Divers discovered that the wreck has become a new home for marine life. “It’s unusual to find a shipwreck two miles down that’s so active” Lahey added.

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