U.S. Signs Treaty to Protect Titanic

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
June 18, 2004

The U.S. announced today that it had joined the United Kingdom to become the second government to give legal protection to the wreck of the Titanic.

If the treaty is approved by Congress, American citizens or U.S.-registered vessels will need permits to take part in diving expeditions to the remains of the legendary ship.

The four nations most closely associated with the Titanic—Canada, France, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.—began negotiating the treaty in 1997. It's unclear when Canada and France might ratify the agreement, which designates the site as an international maritime memorial to the passengers who perished in the legendary disaster.

The wreck of the legendary liner is under assault from natural forces of decay—and the human impacts of a growing tourism and salvage industry that has remained largely unregulated. The agreement seeks to address those problems.

Under the agreement, the Titanic is designated as an international maritime memorial, recognizing the men, women, and children who perished in the icy waters of the Atlantic 92 years ago and whose remains it entombs.

Any country that signs the agreement pledges to prevent its citizens and vessels from making unregulated, illegal dives to the wreck or selling artifacts from it. It also ensures that artifacts from the Titanic are collected and curated in accordance with current scientific standards and kept intact and available to the public as a collection.

Although it rests 12,000 feet (3,660 meters) deep, no other maritime site or vessel has captured the attention or stirred the emotions of people around the globe as Titanic has. The new agreement will help protect this scientific, cultural, and historical treasure from future harm.

Officials hope to choke off sources of financing and technological access for unregulated dives to the wreck—but it will be up to each nation to determine how to implement enforcement.

Under the agreement, U.S. individuals or groups wishing to conduct Titanic activities would have to go through a permitting and regulatory process.

The U.S. State Department will send the agreement to the U.S. Congress and request implementing legislation as directed by the 1986 Titanic Maritime Memorial Act, signed by President Ronald Reagan.

Tourism Taking a Toll on Titanic Wreck

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