“What is eating the Titanic?”
The story of the RMS Titanic is one of the most fascinating yet tragic events of the 20th century. The RMS Titanic was a British passenger liner that sunk off the coast of Newfoundland after she struck an iceberg on April 15, 1912 during her maiden voyage. She remained lost for the next seventy-four years until she was discovered by Dr. Robert Ballard. This was touted as one of the greatest maritime discoveries of all time. The discovery of the Titanic also brought about quite a bit of controversy. The controversy ranged from who owned the wreck, jurisdiction of different nations, and whether or not any part of the wreck should be salvaged.
After the discovery, Dr. Ballard and crew spent time meticulously documenting and recording the wreck. Once they left they had agreed that this should be a protected site and that no artifact recovery should take place. In the years following this would become a topic of great debate. There are many like Dr. Ballard that agree this should be a protected site and that it should remain undisturbed. They feel that it is a tomb of all that were lost. Then there are several who feel that there should be a recovery effort on Titanic and the artifacts. The reason behind this thought is that the ship is deteriorating at an alarming rate and the feel that undertaking a recovery effort will preserve this part of history.
As the development of iron and steam maritime archaeology have emerged so has new areas of research, particularly the development of corrosion science and the understanding of the disintegration process of iron shipwrecks (Green 2004). With new research, the individuals who want to recover part of the wreck feel that time is running out. This is due to the fact that the deterioration of Titanic is actually a destructive bacteria that is eating away at it. There are some that speculate a rust stain is all that will remain of the Titanic in 15 to 20 years, according to new research into the submerged ocean liner wreck (News Discovery 2013). According to this source the science behind the deterioration is the bacteria which was isolated from rust samples appears to be accelerating the Titanic’s deterioration. The bacteria are eating the wreck’s metal and leaving behind “rusticles.” The rusticles look like icicles; however are just deposits of rust. Sooner or later these rusticles will dissolve into a powdery substance leaving behind just a stain of rust. This was bacteria was analyzed by samples taken from a 1991 expedition to the wreck. The researchers proposed a name for the bacteria; Halomonas titanicae (Ventosa 1991).
One of the biggest parts of the debate on whether or not to recover parts of Titanic is that in addition to those that feel it is disturbing a gravesite, there are others that feel that people looking to recover wreckage are just looking into it for financial gain. There has been considerable debate within the maritime archaeological circles over codes of ethics (Green 2004). The debate centers on whether or not it is appropriate to excavate a site and then sell the collection.
I can respect that there are those who wish Titanic remain as an undisturbed grave site. I agree with their motives and feel that the site should be left alone. I do not think that any personal artifacts should be brought up. This is a grave site and there could be human remains left down there. On the flip side however, I feel that an effort should be made to recover portions of the ship itself. I understand that this would be huge undertaking and possibly cost prohibitive but the fact is that in 25 years the wreck will be gone. All that will be left is rust stain on the ocean floor. I firmly believe that there is enough science and technology to successfully recover a portion of the wreck and properly conserve it for future generations to enjoy in a museum setting.
“Titanic Being Eaten by Destructive Bacteria: DNews.” DNews. February 11, 2013. Accessed February 4, 2015. http://news.discovery.com/history/titanic-bacteria-rust-wreck.htm.
Sanchez-Porro, C., Kaur, B., Mann, H., and Ventosa, A. “Halomonas Titanicae Sp. Nov., a Halophilic Bacterium Isolated from the RMS Titanic.” IJSEM. January 8, 2010. Accessed February 4, 2015. http://ijs.sgmjournals.org/content/60/12/2768.short.
Green, J. 2004. Maritime Archaeology: A Technical Handbook. 2nd ed.