Salvaging Titanic

Since the discovery of the sunken Titanic in 1985, four separate organizations have worked to salvage artifacts from the site. Around 5000 items have been recovered and are now on public display at various exhibits around the world. They include parts of the ship, fixtures from staterooms, dishes and glassware from the various dining rooms, and personal items belonging to passengers and crew. The exhibits offer a fascinating look into perhaps the most famous ship in history and those that sailed with her.

cherub from grand staircase

Cherub from the Grand Staircase



pocket watch

Pocket Watch

titanic01-amybracelet 2 named amy

Diamond necklace

(Two passengers were named Amy.)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for protecting and preserving the Titanic wreck site. It has published guidelines for research, exploration, and salvage of Titanic artifacts and worked with the Department of State to form the International Agreement on Titanic in 2003. One NOAA ruling states no ship is allowed to discharge waste of any kind within ten miles of the site.

Although the ship was a British liner, the US has always felt a strong connection to her. American passengers numbered 306, and American Dr. Robert Ballard discovered the lost ship with the backing of the U.S. Navy.

RMS Titanic Inc. is now the sole “salvor” and has exclusive rights to the artifacts. They must be available for “public display, historical review, scientific and scholarly research, and educational purposes.” None of the items may be sold or auctioned individually. For more information about the role of NOAA and RMST, click here:

Some families of those who perished on Titanic, as well as many others, have argued that the shipwreck is a grave site and should not be disturbed. Although no human remains have been found, there are photographs of shoes and other items indicating where a body may have come to rest and decomposed. NOAA guidelines state that disturbance of artifacts that may be associated with human remains is prohibited, even if there is no evidence of a human body. Entry into the hull sections must be avoided for that reason, according to NOAA. However, a section of the hull was raised in 1998, creating an outcry among many.


Shoes amid the wreckage

17-ton section

17-ton hull section

It’s not known at this time if more salvage operations are planned. Experts disagree on whether or not the ship will stay intact and if not, how long before it will crumble away. But interest in Titanic remains high, and efforts to locate and preserve as much as possible from the Queen of the Seas will no doubt continue.

Finding Titanic

Robert Ballard dreamed of becoming an underwater explorer ever since reading Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a young teen. Those dreams would one day lead him to discover a shipwreck thought to be too deep to ever be found: the RMS Titanic.

Robert Ballard

Dr. Robert Ballard

Armed with dual degrees in chemistry and marine geology from the University of California, Robert Ballard moved to Boston in 1967 and began his career at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. An accomplished scuba diver, he joined one of the world’s oldest diving clubs, the Boston Sea Rovers. It was there where his interest in shipwrecks took hold.

In 1973, a research submersible known as Alvin could reach a depth of 6000 feet. Scientists at Woods Hole used Alvin to study marine life and geology in the world’s oceans, but Ballard was frustrated by its inability to go deeper. When Alvin’s steel hull was replaced with one made of titanium, it was then capable of diving twice as far, up to 12,000 feet. At the time, this was roughly the depth Titanic was thought to rest in.



Ballard became obsessed with finding the famous ship. In 1977, he decided to search for the Titanic using the Alcoa Seaprobe, a drilling ship owned by Alcoa Aluminum. He had to convince Woods Hole to back him, which they eventually did, even though some at the company thought him to be interested only in self-promotion. He built a new equipment pod and made other adjustments necessary for the venture. The journey began in October 1977, but a mistake in the building of certain components in the rigging caused the whole thing to break and fall into the sea.

alcoa seaprobe

Alcoa Seaprobe

Others took up the challenge to find the Titanic. Ballard watched, finding it difficult to obtain backing after his failed attempt. Using the best team of scientists and researchers available, expeditions were conducted in 1980, 1981, and 1983 by Texas millionaire Jack Grimm, but to no avail.

During this time, Robert Ballard continued to dream of locating the ship himself. He worked at developing a new way to do underwater research without using a manned submersible like Alvin. Instead, cameras would be mounted aboard a robot and images sent back to the team on the surface. He also focused on finding Titanic’s debris field, which would most likely cover a much larger area than just the ship itself. If he could find the debris field, he reasoned, it would lead them to Titanic.

In 1984, Ballard had perfected the new system, known as Argo, and assembled a team from Woods Hole to find Titanic. The U.S. Navy agreed to fund a three week long test of Argo in the summer of 1985, provided the Woods Hole crew would also locate and photograph the remains of the US Navy nuclear submarine Scorpion.



I hope you’ll join me again next week when we’ll take a look at what happened.