Thursday, December 08, 2005

 

Explorer wants Titanic to be an undersea museum

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Sunday Times
By Jessica Berry
December 04, 2005

THE explorer who discovered the wreck of the Titanic 20 years ago has disclosed that he intends to preserve its crumbling hull with a special anti-fouling paint under ambitious plans to turn the vessel into an ocean-bed museum.

Robert Ballard, 63, a Kansas-born oceanographer, has long been worried about the deteriorating state of the wreck, which lies 2Å miles below the surface, 380 miles off Newfoundland.

Tiny microbes are feeding on its hull and a recent survey found that the mast could disintegrate within five years. Last summer a film crew witnessed the partial collapse of the roof of the Marconi radio cabin.

To stop the rot Ballard has come up with the idea of cleaning the hull and spraying it with a paint that would effectively seal it, minimising the damage from bugs and rust.

His ultimate aim is to install remote controlled cameras on the wreck to show the public “the biggest icon beneath the sea” from the comfort of land.

“If you can preserve Westminster Abbey, then why not the Titanic?” Ballard said last week in an interview. “Is it not one of the most historical shipwrecks in the world? Why shouldn’t we preserve it?”

The paint would be applied by remotely operated vehicles rather than humans, he explained. “There is no reason why they cannot work as well underwater as above, at 12ft or 20,000ft.”

It was 32 years ago that Ballard put forward the idea of using a submersible to find the Titanic, which sank on its maiden voyage on April 15, 1912, with the loss of 1,491 lives after hitting an iceberg. Not until September 1985, however, did he finally succeed.

Ballard said he first had the idea of painting the Titanic the following year, when he discovered a section of the hull which had been below the original waterline and which was still pink, preserved by its anti-fouling agent.

As well as the effect of the microbes he has been concerned about damage done by wealthy tourists who pay up to £30,000 for a five-hour round trip in a three-man Mir submarine to visit the wreck.

Ballard has railed against such trips, claiming they are damaging the ship. He has denounced as grave-robbers those who take away parts of the vessel or the belongings of those who died there. They “are loving the Titanic to death”, he said.

He wants to start work on the bow section, which is in relatively good condition, rather than the stern, which is badly damaged.

“The Titanic is an eggshell,” the explorer said. “The deeper you go in, the more preserved it is. I just want to preserve the hull.”

Ballard is not rushing into the project, however. He will practise the techniques that he will need by joining missions already planned by the Greek and Ukrainian governments in search of wrecks in the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea.

He will then move on to the Britannic, the Titanic’s sister ship, which sank in the Aegean in 1916. It lies just 400ft down and so should be relatively easy to experiment on. “I can’t just say I’m gonna go out and paint the Titanic,” he said.

The project has provoked scorn among some marine archeologists who have aired their thoughts on the internet.

One, Jim Sinclair, wrote from Florida: “This is so outlandish, far-fetched, expensive and intrusive to the wreck it defies logic . . . Is not Bob Ballard the man who says this is a tomb for so very many people and as such should be left untouched? Of what, one may ask, is he thinking?”
Ballard is undeterred. “We have an expression in the US: how do you eat a 500lb cake? A bit at a time,” he said.


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