Movie lovers know what became of Jack and Rose, but what happened after the Titanic sank in real life? For decades, the tragic ship took on a whole new life at the bottom of the ocean. Curious people can catch a glimpse of the ship’s remains via photos and videos, but thanks to technological advancements, people can now see it in person… if they can afford it.
Most people know basic Titanic facts; the world’s largest and allegedly unsinkable ocean liner hit an iceberg while crossing the Atlantic in 1912 and sank, taking about 1,500 lives in the process. The stories of Titanic survivors remain memorable and heartbreaking, especially since roughly 700 people survived.
More than a century later, the great ship continues to capture humanity’s imagination. Several companies offer tours to the Titanic wreckage using advanced submersibles, but visiting the Titanic isn’t cheap – scientists worry the ship’s remains may only last another few years. Intrepid Titanic lovers may want to take the plunge to the Atlantic’s ocean floor to see the existing historic ruins.
People Who Can Afford A $125,000 Ticket May Visit What’s Left Of The Ship
Deep Ocean Expeditions sent their first deep-sea tour to the Titanic in 1998, and continued the expeditions until 2005; they even transported a couple down to get married near the ship’s remains. The company made one last trip in 2012 for the disaster’s 100th anniversary, charging ticket prices of $59,000.
Titanic lovers had little hope of visiting it until a pair of companies announced new expeditions. Bluefish, a provider of “VIP access to a more attractive lifestyle,” plans to offer an excursion in a small submersible, which can carry two passengers plus the pilot. For $59,680 per ticket, passengers will descend at 100 feet per minute through darkness and freezing waters, viewing several sections of the Titanic on a 12-hour round trip.
OceanGate Expeditions also intends to operate tours, with the additional goals of inspecting the damage and creating 3D images of the site. On a six-day trip, researchers and “citizen scientists” able to afford the $1250,000 ticket will act as “mission specialists,” helping to fund the researchers while participating in “communications, navigation, sonar operation, photography, and dive planning.” In November 2020, Stockton Rush, president of OceanGate, told Bloomberg that some spaces were still open for the first expeditions, set to take place in 2021 from May through September. Mission specialists – three on each dive – will sail for eight days, then go on a single dive of six to eight hours to explore the ship and its resting site.
A Trip To The Atlantic Seafloor Is Neither Quick Nor Danger-Free
It can take approximately two-and-a-half hours to reach the Titanic‘s resting place, which is about 12,600 feet below sea level. This is ironic, in that the ship sank to the seafloor within minutes. Since the pressure at this level is approximately 5,541.9 pounds per square inch, submersibles need extra security to keep passengers safe. Any puncture or hole in the hull could cause the craft to implode instantly.
Freezing waters lower the temperature in the cabin as the submersible descends, and maintaining stable pressure requires filtering out carbon dioxide. The types of submersible capable of this trip only hold about three people, so space can feel cramped. Since there aren’t onboard restrooms, occupants have to use a special container to relieve themselves, which may take place without privacy. Weather conditions also play a critical role, as storms and high waves make expeditions more hazardous.
Experts Disagree Over Whether Or Not Human Remains Are Inside The Titanic Site
More than 1,500 people died when the Titanic sank. Officials only recovered 340 bodies from the tragedy. Recovery efforts found corpses as far as 50 miles away from the wreck site due to a storm passing through the area. Though one expedition allegedly found part of a finger, no one who’s traveled to the Titanic has seen a full corpse. Explorers also saw the occasional shoe or article of clothing.
Since the seawater doesn’t deteriorate leather rapidly, boots and shoes on the seafloor may mark where a body once rested. Sea life most likely devoured the corpses from the wreck, but some believe certain areas of the ship contain trapped bodies. Decomposition underwater requires oxygen supplied by currents, so explorers think areas inaccessible to water flow might have preserved remains.
The Remains Of The Ship May Soon Be Gone Due To Hungry Bacteria
Thanks to the intense pressure and conditions surrounding the Titanic‘s final resting place, it has gradually deteriorated over the years. The lack of living creatures at this level helped save the wreck from severe corrosion. However, scientists noticed strange formations they named “rusticles” forming on pieces of the ship like icicles.
A team of Canadian researchers brought samples back to their lab, noting bacteria lived on the strange formations. One of those scientists, Henrietta Mann, dug further into the research and discovered a new species of bacteria (Halomonas titanicae); it can survive in deep-sea pressure and darkness. Unfortunately, the bacteria devours the ship’s metal to survive. According to several researchers, the Titanic may only endure for about 11 more years.
Treasure Hunters Have Taken Thousands Of Artifacts From The Titanic Wreckage
Because international waters are home to the Titanic‘s remains, different countries fought over the rights to the ship for years. In 1985, explorer and former US Navy officer Robert Ballard appealed to Congress to protect the site, inspiring a protective law signed by Ronald Reagan. The RMS Titanic Maritime Memorial Act required people and companies to obtain a permit from the Secretary of Commerce before taking items from the wreckage.
Unfortunately, this law had little effect – treasure hunters and other explorers took many artifacts from the site, including more than 5,500 items recovered by a private company for commercial purposes. Many have also auctioned off artifacts, which further fuels debate about whether or not people should refrain from visiting the Titanic and respect it as a gravesite.
Careless Visitors May Have Further Damaged The Wreckage
Robert Ballard, one of the explorers who discovered the Titanic‘s wreckage, alleges visitors to the site further damaged the wreckage. He claims to have photographic proof of the ship in worse condition now than when it sank, and not only because of its years underwater.
Ballard cites damage to the crow’s nest, as well as litter scattered on the seafloor around the ship as evidence of visitors’ carelessness. Submersibles often use weights to descend, dropping them to travel back to the surface and leaving their ballast strewn among the Titanic‘s debris. Ballard also reportedly found evidence of people aboard support boats on the surface throwing trash into the water, which eventually reached the Titanic site as well.
Titanic-Obsessed James Cameron Has Visited The Wreck More Than 30 Times
Though he’s more well-known for bringing the Titanic story to the big screen, James Cameron is also an active deep-sea explorer. In fact, the sinking of the Titanic inspired his passion for the sea. He once claimed he made his movie for the sole purpose of diving to the wreckage. Cameron made 11 journeys to the seafloor while filming, some of which appeared in the film as real underwater footage.
He returned to the site to film the documentaries Ghosts of the Abyss and the Discovery Channel’s Last Mysteries of the Titanic, using leading technologies to conduct more detailed surveys of the wreckage. As of 2012, Cameron has embarked on more than 30 trips to view the Titanic; he was also the first person in history to complete a solo trip to the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, the lowest-known point on Earth.
It Took 73 Years To Locate The Titanic’s Remains
The Carpathia held the only clue as to where in Atlantic the Titanic capsized. First to arrive at the scene, the ship rescued many survivors, but its reported location of the disaster was 13.5 miles off. In addition to searching in the wrong place, people encountered further difficulties locating the wreckage due to the ocean’s depth. It took years until technology advanced enough to effectively explore an underwater area known for intense pressure and practically no light.
Thanks to developments in sonar and robots able to scan the seafloor, a team of American and French researchers collaborated to find the Titanic in 1985. The American underwater robot Argo could dive deeper and stay underwater longer than manned submersibles at the time. Paired with French sonar technology, Argo scanned large sections of the seafloor relatively quickly and discovered the wreckage 73 years after the Titanic sank.
Ballard Found The Titanic Wreckage In 1985
After a 1977 mission to find the Titanic failed, oceanographer Robert Ballard employed new robotic technology to scan the Atlantic seafloor. Ballard’s team realized it was potentially easier to search for a wide debris field instead of pursuing a single metal object such as the hull.
Accordingly, they scanned a wide area and worked in regular shifts to sustain the search. On September 1, 1985, cameras detected a debris field, revealing one of the ship’s massive boilers. This confirmed Ballard and his team had finally discovered the wreckage.
Ballard was also the first to confirm the Titanic had broken into two pieces when it sank. The ship’s stern and bow landed on the seafloor about 2,000 feet away from one another, and a field of debris and passengers’ possessions scattered between and around the broken hull. Researchers discovered so many cooking items in one area, they nicknamed the stretch of seafloor “hell’s kitchen.”
Ballard Was On A Secret Military Mission When He Found The Titanic
To fund his search for the Titanic wreckage, Robert Ballard agreed to complete a mission for the US Navy – the public was unaware of this until 2008. During the Cold War, the Navy wanted to secretly use Ballard’s underwater technology to locate a pair of nuclear submarines, the USS Thresher and USS Scorpion, which sank in the North Atlantic in the 1960s.
The agreement allowed Ballard to use his time for a personal search, which was contingent on his finding the two subs first. The public simply thought he was on a mission to find the Titanic and nothing more. After locating and surveying both submarine wrecks, Ballard and his team had only 12 weeks remaining in their Naval agreement to uncover the Titanic wreckage.
UNESCO Protects The Titanic Wreckage
Historians honored the 100th anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking in 2012; it was both a milestone and marker of when UNESCO declared protection of the wreckage as a piece of cultural heritage. The organization created a convention in 2001 deeming all 100-year-old shipwrecks as historical artifacts.
Since the ship sank in international waters, there wasn’t a legal recourse preventing scavengers from ransacking it. UNESCO agreed the public – such as researchers and respectful visitors – should have access to the Titanic gravesite. Treasure hunters and looters could face prosecution.
A Museum-Artifact Supplier Raised A Piece Of Titanic’s Hull
When Robert Ballard discovered the Titanic in two pieces, he realized bringing the wreck back up would prove nearly impossible. The ship accumulated much rust, further increasing its risk of damage.
This didn’t stop RMS Titanic Inc. from trying, though. The company, which maintains artifacts and designs exhibits, organized several visits to the site starting in 1993 to collect artifacts. In 1996, they attempted to raise a piece of the hull weighing more than 11 tons by attaching rubber bags filled with diesel, which would rise, taking the part along with them.
The piece ascended to about 200 feet below the surface when bad weather forced the team to move their ship and try to tow the piece along with them. Unfortunately, the weather also caused the bags to break loose, and the segment fell to the bottom of the ocean. A tracking device placed on the part allowed the company to find it and attempt this again two years later. On their second try, the crew succeeded, and the hull piece went on display as part of a traveling exhibit based on the Titanic.
Ballard’s Photos Showed Titanic Underwater For The First Time
Inclement weather forced Robert Ballard’s 1985 Titanic expedition to abandon the scene shortly after they discovered the wreck. A year later, Ballard returned to the site in a manned submersible and took photographs of the wreckage, revealing images to the public for the first time.
He and a small team made 11 trips to the seafloor using the submersible, Alvin, as well as a robotic camera to document the state of the ship. Ballard captured the wreckage on video and took more than 57,000 photos.
These images showed the ship flooded, not due to a single large gash as previously believed, but rather thanks to several punctures in the hull. Ballard’s research team identified the crow’s nest; noted debris, such as furniture and plates, scattered around the wreck; and used intact portholes and a missing skylight to view parts of the ship’s interior, including the grand staircase. Through these missions, Ballard determined trying to remove the Titanic from the seafloor would prove nearly impossible.
Several Titanic Replicas Remain Unfinished
For those unable to afford a ticket to see the Titanic or reluctant to embark on the deep-sea dive, there are potentially other options to see the great ship.
A fan of the James Cameron film started a project to construct a full-scale replica in China. The 1,000-foot-long construction would use more than 20,000 tons of steel; it also involves building a dam to flood the surrounding area in the Chinese countryside. A hotel featuring a large indoor beach would allow visitors to stay overnight. Unfortunately, the project halted due to rising steel prices.
Another failed idea belonged to Australian businessman Clive Palmer; he wanted to re-create the ship as a fully functional sea vessel named Titanic II. In 2015, he claimed his ship replica would launch in 2016, then changed the release to 2018. Eventually, he stopped talking about it.
Visitors seeking a tasteful homage to the Titanic can venture to Ireland for Titanic Belfast.
Want More ‘Titanic?’
Photo: Open Road Media
Even though the RMS Titanic slipped beneath the icy surface of the Atlantic more than 100 years ago, people continue to be fascinated by it. Whether it be first-person accounts of what happened on board or historical analyses of the captain’s decisions that fateful night, there is plenty to dig into if you’re someone who is interested in all things Titanic. If you – or someone you know – just can’t get enough of the “Unsinkable Ship,” here are our staff’s picks of what to read, watch, and buy next.
A Night to Remember: The Sinking of the Titanic, the #1 New York Times bestselling book by Walter Lord. Based on interviews with sixty-three survivors, Lord’s moment-by-moment account is among the finest books written about one of the twentieth century’s bleakest nights.
A popular gift volume featuring dozens of meticulously accurate, full-color paintings – including a fold-out illustration of the whole Titanic – Titanic: An Illustrated History offers a wealth of information about the “unsinkable” cruise ship and its fatal voyage.
The History Channel’s documentary Titanic: The Complete Story is ideal for anyone who really wants all of the details from that fateful night in a format they can watch and re-watch anytime.
For younger readers, Voyage on the Great Titanic: The Diary of Margaret Ann Brady, R.M.S. Titanic, 1912 in the popular Dear America series offers a unique view of life onboard the ship from the perspective of a young girl.
Our staff has written lots on the subject, too, so stick around!
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