ON TV: Save the Titanic with Bob Ballard premieres at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Monday, April 9, on the National Geographic Channel.
An anniversary deep-sea diving expedition will offer tourists a chance to visit the R.M.S. Titanic, a hundred years after the legendary ship sank to the bottom of the frigid North Atlantic.
As part of a $60,000, two-week cruise, a pair of tourists can get shoehorned with a pilot into a tiny Russian MIR submersible that’s less than 7 feet (2.1 meters) wide. The trip to Titanic’s resting place takes about 2.5 hours, and a round-trip dive lasts about 8 to 10 hours.
“I think one thing that captures people is a direct link to this almost mythological maritime character, the Titanic,” said Rob McCallum of Deep Ocean Expeditions, which holds exclusive charter for Titanic dives.
“Being able to go and actually see it and pay homage to it, if you like, is an incredible aspect of his expedition.”
But summer 2012 is the first season since 2005 that Deep Ocean Expeditions has taken people to the Titanic—and it could be the last.
“For a variety of reasons, these are the last dives that the Deep Ocean Expeditions is going to do on Titanic,” said McCallum, whose company began diving to the Titanic in 1998. The outfitter also takes tourists to the Bismarck shipwreck, the North Pole, deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and other extreme sites.
“Our support ship is going into retirement soon, and the submersibles are going to go back into government work.”
At the same time, some historians and other advocates are arguing against tourist dives to the wreck, saying the underwater site is being endangered by looting, littering, and poorly controlled access.
For instance, Edward Kamuda, president of the Titanic Historical Society, said he would rather not see expeditions like this summer’s take place at all.
“To us it’s a grave site—why disturb it any further?” he said. “One couple went down and got married at the site. There will be cruise ships going out there for the anniversary and drinking champagne and that sort of thing.”
“Is that an appropriate way to commemorate the sinking of this ship and the loss of all those lives?”
Discoverer Wants Titanic Protected
More than 1,500 passengers and crew died after the supposedly unsinkable Titanic struck an iceberg in the wee hours of April 14, 1912, and sank at 2:20 a.m. on April 15. (See a Titanic crash-scene interactive.)
The ship’s whereabouts remained a mystery until the wreck was found on September 1, 1985, about 380 miles (611 kilometers) southeast of Newfoundland (map).
Since then, people have debated about how to best protect the Titanic, and what type of access to the site should be allowed.
For instance, though Deep Ocean Expeditions won’t return to Titanic, other tourists and treasure seekers likely will—legally or not.
That scenario troubles deep-sea explorer Bob Ballard, who discovered the wreck 25 years ago. (Related: “Titanic Was Found During Secret Cold War Navy Mission.”)
Ballard, also a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, believes the ship’s very survival is threatened by its growing accessibility. (National Geographic News is owned by the National Geographic Society.)
“I have no problem with people going to the Titanic—I have a problem with people destroying the Titanic,” he said.
According to Ballard, “we have smoking gun evidence of all kinds of damage. We have a photo mosaic of the ship before any submarines showed up, and [today] we can show you where they’ve landed on the ship. We can show you where they knocked the crow’s nest off.” (Explore a 2004 photomosaic of the Titanic wreck.)
Ballard also stressed that many photos show the site littered with trash, including objects thrown overboard by surface support vessels and ballast dropped by submersibles.
“I don’t mind the dives, but they should descend off site and drop their weights well away from the debris field,” he said.
“Then they could drive over the wreck to visit it and don’t touch it, and don’t take anything, before driving away.”
Titanic-philes Drawn to Deep-Sea Dive
But Deep Ocean Expeditions’s McCallum said that his expeditions are cut of a different cloth.
“Most of the people going out there with us have an absolute reverence for Titanic,” McCallum said.
You Can Read More Here Thanks To National Geographic:http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/04/120406-titanic-100-anniversary-bob-ballard-science/