The ship broke in two pieces, which came to rest 590 metres (approx. 650 yards) separated. The bow section, which had already flooded when it started to descend, simply dove to the bottom and suffered some damage on impact, but it survived the crash extraordinary well.
The stern section, however, was still partially unflooded when the descent started, and the increasing water pressure caused lots of internal collapses, making the stern disintegrate during the spiral dive to the bottom. The hard impact even increased the already serious damage at the breakup surface of the stern, and it became one giant pile of destruction. Unfairly, this might be the reason why the stern section is often completely omitted when talking about the wreck of the Titanic.
Discovery in 1985
The idea of finding the wreck of Titanic and even raising the ship from the ocean floor had been perpetuated since shortly after the ship sank. No attempts even to locate the ship were successful until 1984, when a joint American-French expedition, led by Jean-Louis Michel and Dr. Robert Ballard of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, sailing on the Research Vessel Knorr, discovered the wreck using the video camera sled submersible Argo. It was found at a depth of 3784 meters, south-east of Newfoundland, 13 nautical miles (24 km) from where Titanic was originally thought to rest.
The most notable discovery the team made was that the ship had broken in two, the stern section lying 1,970 feet (600 m) from the bow section and both facing in opposite directions. There had been conflicting witness accounts of whether the ship broke apart on the surface or not, and both the American and British inquiries found that the ship sank intact. Up until the discovery of the wreck, it was generally assumed the ship did not break apart. In 2005, a theory was presented that a portion of Titanic's bottom broke off right before the ship broke in three. The theory was conceived after an expedition sponsored by The History Channel examined the three hull pieces.
The bow section had embedded itself more than 60 feet (18 m) into the silt on the ocean floor. Although parts of the hull had buckled, the bow was mostly intact, as the water inside had equalized with the increasing water pressure. The stern section was in much worse condition. As the stern section sank, water pushed out the air inside tearing apart the hull and decks. The speed at which the stern hit the ocean floor caused even more damage. Surrounding the wreck is a large debris field, with pieces of the ship (including a large amount of coal), furniture, dinnerware and personal items scattered over one square mile (2.6 km²). Softer materials, like wood and carpet, were devoured by undersea organisms, as were human remains.
Later exploration of the vessel's lower decks, as chronicled in the book Ghosts of the Titanic by Dr Charles Pellegrino, showed that much of the wood from Titanic's staterooms was still intact. A new theory has been put forth that much of the wood from the upper decks was not devoured by undersea organisms but rather broke free of its fixings and floated away. This is supported by some eyewitness testimony from the survivors. Also, while filming the 1997 film Titanic, the Grand Staircase set broke free of its supports when it was flooded for sinking sequences of the film. This has led historian Don Lynch and historical artist Ken Marschall to believe that the Grand Staircase, in fact, exited the sinking ship in this way (as mentioned in DVD commentary of the film).
Although the British inquiry had determined mathematically that the damage to the ship could not have comprised more than twelve square feet, the popular notion was that the iceberg had cut a 300 feet (90 m) long gash into Titanic's hull. Since the part of the ship that the iceberg had damaged was buried, scientists used sonar to examine the area and discovered the iceberg had caused the hull to buckle, allowing water to enter Titanic between its steel plates. During subsequent dives, scientists retrieved small pieces of Titanic's hull. A detailed analysis of the pieces revealed the ship's steel plating was of a variety that loses its elasticity and becomes brittle in cold or icy water, leaving it vulnerable to dent-induced ruptures. Furthermore, the rivets holding the hull together were much more fragile than once thought. It is unknown if stronger steel or rivets could have saved the ship.
The samples of steel rescued from the wrecked hull were found to have very high content of phosphorus and sulfur (four times and two times as high as common for modern steels), with a manganese-sulfur ratio of 6.8:1 (compare with over 200:1 ratio for modern steels). High content of phosphorus initiates fractures, sulfur forms grains of iron sulphide that facilitate propagation of cracks, and lack of manganese makes the steel less ductile. The recovered samples were found to be undergoing ductile-brittle transition in temperatures of 32 °C (for longitudinal samples) and 56 °C (for transversal samples/compare with transition temperature of -27 °C common for modern steels/modern steel would become as brittle between -60 and -70 °C). The anisotropy was likely caused by hot rolling influencing the orientation of the sulfide stringer inclusions. The steel was probably produced in the acid-lined, open-hearth furnaces in Glasgow, which would explain the high content of phosphorus and sulfur, even for the times.
Dr. Ballard and his team did not bring up any artifacts from the site, considering it to be tantamount to grave robbing. Under international maritime law, however, the recovery of artifacts is necessary to establish salvage rights to a shipwreck. In the years after the find, the Titanic has been the object of a number of court cases concerning ownership of artifacts and the wreck site itself.
Ownership and Litigation
Upon discovery in 1985, a legal debate began over ownership of the wreck and the valuable artifacts inside. On 7 June 1994, RMS Titanic Inc. was awarded ownership and salvaging rights of the wreck by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. (See Admiralty law) RMS Titanic Inc., a subsidiary of Premier Exhibitions Inc., and its predecessors have conducted seven expeditions to the wreck between 1987 and 2004 and salvaged over 5,500 objects. The biggest single recovered artifact was a 17-ton section of the hull, recovered in 1998. Many of these artifacts are part of traveling museum exhibitions, but a permanent Titanic Museum in Missouri holds over 400 salvaged artifacts.
Beginning in 1987, a joint American-French expedition, which included the predecessor of RMS Titanic Inc., began salvage operations and, during 32 dives, recovered approximately 1,800 artifacts which were taken to France for conservation and restoration. In 1993, a French administrator in the Office of Maritime Affairs of the Ministry of Equipment, Transportation, and Tourism awarded RMS Titanic Inc's predecessor title to the artifacts recovered in 1987.
In a motion filed on 12 February 2004, RMS Titanic Inc. requested that the District Court enter an order awarding it "title to all the artifacts (including portions of the hull) which are the subject of this action pursuant to the Law of Finds," or, in the alternative, a salvage award in the amount of $225 million. RMS Titanic Inc. excluded from its motion any claim for an award of title to the 1987 artifacts, but it did request that the district court declare that, based on the French administrative action, "the artifacts raised during the 1987 expedition are independently owned by RMST." Following a hearing, the district court entered an order dated 2 July 2004, in which it refused to grant comity and recognize the 1993 decision of the French administrator, and rejected RMS Titanic Inc's claim that it should be awarded title to the artifacts recovered since 1993 under the Maritime Law of Finds.
RMS Titanic, Inc., appealed to the United States Court of Appeals. In its decision of 31 January 2006 the court recognized "explicitly the appropriateness of applying maritime salvage law to historic wrecks such as that of Titanic" and denied the application of the Maritime Law of Finds. The court also ruled that the district court lacked jurisdiction over the "1987 artifacts", and therefore vacated that part of the court's 2 July 2004 order. In other words, according to this decision, RMS Titanic Inc. has ownership title to the artifacts awarded in the French decision (valued $16.5 million earlier) and continues to be salvor-in-possession of Titanic wreck. The Court of Appeals remanded the case to the District Court to determine the salvage award ($225 million requested by RMS Titanic, Inc.).
Current Condition of the Wreck
Many scientists, including Robert Ballard, are concerned that visits by tourists in submersibles and the recovery of artifacts are hastening the decay of the wreck. Underwater microbes, especially the Halomonas titanicae, have been eating away at Titanic's iron since the ship sank, but because of the extra damage visitors have caused, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates that "the hull and structure of the ship may collapse to the ocean floor within the next 50 years." Several scientists and conservationists have also complained about the removal of the crow's nest on the mast by a French expedition.
Ballard's book, Return to Titanic, published by the National Geographic Society, includes photographs showing the deterioration of the promenade deck and damage caused by submersibles landing on the ship; however, Ballard was the first person to crash a camera sled into the wreck, and also the first person to repeatedly land on its deck in a submersible. The mast has almost completely deteriorated, and repeated accusations were made in print by Ballard that it had been stripped of its bell and brass light by salvagers, despite his own original discovery images clearly showing that the bell was never actually on the mast - it was recovered from the sea floor. Ballard also alleges that the French submersible Nautile was responsible for crashing into the crow's nest and causing it to fall from the mast, however, the crow's nest had already deteriorated and was doomed to fall by itself eventually. Even the memorial plaque left by Ballard on his second trip to the wreck was alleged to have been removed; Ballard replaced the plaque in 2004. Recent expeditions, notably by James Cameron, have been diving on the wreck to learn more about the site and explore previously unexplored parts of the ship before Titanic decays completely.
The wreck of the Titanic was way less featured in popular culture than the sinking of the liner in 1912. The only movie that contains footage of the wreck of the real Titanic is James Cameron's 1997 blockbuster.
There is a computer game featuring a hypothetical scuba dive to the wreck called Hidden Expedition Titanic.The player is tasked to salvage treasures from the wreck and bring it to the surface before he runs out of air and drowns.
An interesting simulator movie is Titanic Phantoms. It shows you a submersible ride to the wreck site. The journey down, the expedition inside and the way back is one big bumpy ride, with lots of scary meetings.
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- ↑ Katherine Felkins, A. Jankovic, and H.P. Leighly, Jr.,The Royal Mail Ship Titanic: Did a Metallurgical Failure Cause a Night to Remember?; Alan Bruzel, Analysis of Steel from the Titanic
- ↑ Comprehensive resume of ownership questions
- ↑ United States Court of Appeals for the fourth circuit, R.M.S. TITANIC, INCORPORATED vs. THE WRECKED AND ABANDONED VESSEL - January 31, 2006
- ↑ Commented excerpts of the Court of Appeals decision