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Safeguarding the RMS Titanic’s final resting place

United States and United Kingdom join to protect the famous vessel
December 19, 2019

On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic left Southampton on its maiden voyage to New York City. With more than 2,200 passengers and crew members aboard, the vessel tragically became one of the world’s legendary shipwrecks.

The RMS Titanic rests at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean

The Titanic was one of the largest and most luxurious vessels of its time. At nearly 900’ in length and displacing 52,000 tons, it was the pride of the White Star Line. On the evening of April 14, 1912, the ship collided with an iceberg and sank a few hours later, taking more than 1,500 passengers and crew to the icy depths of the Atlantic Ocean. 

12,000 feet

The approximate depth where the RMS Titanic came to rest

For decades, the wreck’s precise location was unknown until it was discovered in 1985, by a joint U.S.-French expedition led by Dr. Robert Ballard of Woods Hole Institute and Jean-Louis Michel of the French Research Institute for Exploration of the Sea. Recognizing the importance of the wreck and the need to ensure the vessel would not be subject to looting and unregulated salvage operations, the United States Congress adopted the RMS Titanic Maritime Memorial Act. That legislation also provided for NOAA and the U.S. Department of State to negotiate an international agreement with interested nations to protect the site. As a result of that legislation, the United States, United Kingdom, France, and Canada negotiated an agreement that was signed in 2003.

Last month the United States officially completed the acceptance process for the agreement and it is officially in force.  The agreement furthers the ability of the United States and the United Kingdom to minimize threats to the integrity of the Titanic wreck site and its remaining artifacts. It is intended to keep the artifacts together and intact in a manner allowing for public access. The United States and the United Kingdom hope that other nations will join the agreement in order to broaden cooperative efforts to protect the Titanic.  

NOAA missions to the wreck site

NOAA has a long history with the Titanic.  In fact, since the site was discovered in 1985, NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research has conducted two expeditions. The first of these missions was conducted in June 2003. This expedition consisted of an 11-day research cruise to the wreck site. Working with foreign partners including Canada, the goal for this joint venture was to assess the wreck site in its current condition and provide an opportunity to conduct scientific observations for ongoing research. A subsequent NOAA expedition in 2004 was conducted to study the ship's rapid deterioration.

The Hercules ROV is lowered over the side of the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown on May 30, 2004.
The Hercules ROV is lowered over the side of the NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown on May 30, 2004. (National Geographic)

Between the two missions, NOAA provided the world with views of the sunken Titanic as well as important data for protecting this and other submerged cultural resources. Now, with an international agreement in effect, a framework is now in place to ensure that the final resting place of the RMS Titanic will remain undisturbed. 

Additional resources:
U.S. Department of State media statement
NOAA Office of General Counsel Titanic homepage
NOAA's Preserving America’s maritime history explainer
Ocean Today video - The Titanic wreck site