'Titanic' show goes on despite grave-robbing row: Maritime museum says it is satisfied none of the artefacts have been taken from the wreck. Rhys Williams reports

AMID concerns about 'grave robbing', an exhibition of artefacts recovered from the seabed around the wreck of the Titanic will be staged at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich this autumn, before embarking on a world tour.

Among the 200 items on display will be jewellery, a shaving brush, watches, a purse and traveller's cheques, all well-preserved by the cold, dark conditions at the bottom of the North Atlantic, 500 miles off Newfoundland.

George Tulloch, chairman of RMS Titanic, the New York company which has funded the dollars 12m ( pounds 8m) recovery operation, told a press conference yesterday: 'An exhibition done well is education, and education is now the Titanic's role in our world.'

Gillian Hutchinson, the museum's curator of archaeology, said many passengers had packed all their belongings as they sought a life in the New World. The wreck, she believed, was of great archaeological value, 'not only for the remains of the ship, but as a whole slice of social history. It's a huge cultural resource'.

But there has been concern among passengers' relatives, and others, that a grave has been desecrated. Millvina Dean of Southampton, now 82, was at nine weeks of age the youngest survivor of the tragedy. She said: 'I would rather it had been left alone in the first place. When I think of all the people down there, one of them my father, I want them to rest in peace.'

Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin, chairman of the museum trustees, said the board had met last year to consider charges of 'grave robbing and treasure hunting'. But he said that he was happy with assurances given by RMS Titanic that the integrity of the wreck would not be compromised.

'All the artefacts have been recovered from the seabed and not from the wreck. They will be kept together as a collection, conserved and preserved, and will never be sold for commercial gain,' he said.

The Titanic sank early on 15 April 1912, after hitting an iceberg five days into its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York. A total of 1,503 passengers and crew died. The Cunard liner Carpathia picked up 705 survivors and brought them to New York three days later.

The wreck site was located in 1985 by the US Navy and the French oceanographic institute, IFREMER. In the two-and-a-half mile fall to the ocean bed, the bow and stern separated and now lie nearly half a mile apart. Ship's fittings and personal belongings had been strewn across an area the size of the City of London, Lord Lewin said. Two expeditions, in 1987 and last year, recovered about 2,600 objects from the area. The new exhibition features pieces from that trove, restored and preserved in France.

RMS Titanic expects to spend another dollars 6m on preserving the site. The National Maritime Museum's decision to host the exhibition provides a prestigious curtain-raiser to a world tour through which it hopes to retrieve some of its investment.

(Photograph omitted)

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