Bid launched to secure collection of Titanic artefacts

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A £14 million bid to buy a collection of more than 5,500 artefacts from the Titanic wreck site and bring them to Northern Ireland has been launched.

The rare collection has become available after a US company that currently owns the items filed for bankruptcy.

Titanic Belfast, the Titanic Foundation, National Museums Northern Ireland and the National Maritime Museum have teamed up to launch the multi-million pound Titanic Artefacts Collection campaign.

The campaign, which was launched in Belfast on Tuesday, has the backing of the Titanic film director James Cameron, and Dr Bob Ballard, who discovered the wreck of Titanic in 1985.

Dr Ballard will be among those speaking at the event at the Titanic Belfast.

Soon after the wreck was found, the privately-owned company RMS Titanic Inc gained exclusive rights to salvage it and recovered items from statues to shoes of the victims.

The 5,500 artefacts were recovered from the seabed over the course of seven expeditions between 1987 and 2004.

Premier Exhibitions, which currently owns the collection, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States in June 2016.

The £14.5m bid will ensure that the collection is not broken up, bringing it back home to Belfast, securing its longevity through public ownership and protecting and preserving the legacy of Titanic.

The famous ship sank after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage in 1912, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,500 people.

James Cameron – Avatar sequels
Titanic director James Cameron (Ian West/PA)

The Hollywood director, who has added his support to the bid through his Avatar Alliance Foundation, said he feels a “deep responsibility” to Titanic.

His first expedition to the wreck site was in 1995 as part of the move project. He has since made 33 dives to the Titanic site over a 10-year period.

“You feel responsible to get the story right and honour the dead and the tragedy,” he said.

“I went to the wreck site [in 1995] for a purpose, to film the Titanic for a movie but I came away with a sense of a greater purpose which is to tell that story by whatever means.

“Once Titanic is in your life, it doesn’t leave easily.

“When the issue of the artefacts came up, Bob Ballard contacted me and said this was happening and I said we should do something do about it.”

The director worked with Dr Ballard and organised a meeting with Conal Harvey, the deputy chairman of Titanic Belfast, at the National Geographic Society headquarters in the US a year ago.

The team discussed the idea of acquiring and repatriating the artefacts.

Royal visit to Northern Ireland
The Titanic Museum (John Walton/PA)

Mr Cameron added: “One of the concerns is that the collection would be broken up, sold privately, the bankruptcy court might award the company the opportunity to break up the collection, to sell it piecemeal and it would disappear from the public eye.

“That’s why people who feel some responsibility around Titanic has stepped up.

“If it’s sold privately that would be wrong, it’s a part of the world heritage. It’s an incredible piece of history.

“I spent more time on the ship than the captain did,” he added.

“From the first moment we raised this idea it was a dream, but I think the chances are very good and certainly it’s moved from an idea to a dream to a partnership.”

He said the artefacts will help boost Northern Ireland’s economy and tourism.

“Because Titanic is such a world-wide known event, I can’t think of a better place for the majority of artefacts to be.”

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