Race to find £200m treasure inside crumbling 'Titanic'

Mark Rowe
Sunday 23 July 2000 00:00 BST

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Divers are scouring the Titanic in an desperate attempt to recover up to £200m of diamonds before the ship finally disintegrates.

Divers are scouring the Titanic in an desperate attempt to recover up to £200m of diamonds before the ship finally disintegrates.

In a move that recalls the opening to the Oscar-winning film of the disaster, divers are searching for a shipment of diamonds along with passengers' jewellery that experts believe was hurriedly stashed in pursers' bags as the ship was sinking.

The recovery operation has been criticised by the youngest survivor of the 1912 disaster, who has pleaded with salvage experts to leave the stricken liner alone. Millvena Dean, who was just nine weeks old when the ship went down, said: "I think it is all wrong. I think the ship should be left in peace. Any bits and pieces that have come out from the ship on the seabed - that is all right. But to go on the ship - no, that is all wrong."

But RMS Titanic, the company which owns the salvage rights to the Titanic, says it believes the diamonds and other artefacts should be brought to the surface rather than be lost for good. "We can see through scientific testing that the ship is deteriorating at a very, very rapid rate," said G. Michael Harris, founder of RMS Titanic Inc. "The ocean is basically eating the Titanic alive. Our fear is that we are racing against time to be able to rescue these artefacts and bring them back to the surface before they are lost forever."

Divers have so far recovered about 5 per cent of the artefacts from the Titanic, which sank after striking an iceberg on 14 April 1912, with the deaths of more than 1,500 passengers and crew. Mr Harris said: "We will hopefully be able to recover some of the first class luggage out of the cargo hold as well as the registered mail."

The diamonds are at the heart of the search. "Two brothers were coming out of Switzerland," said Mr Harris. "They had a shipment of diamonds they were bringing back to New York with them that they lost on Titanic which today would be valued at over $300 million [about £200m]."

Using manned submersibles and a miniature, remote-operated vehicle dubbed "a flying eyeball" equipped with a video camera, the salvage team plans to gather artefacts left behind in the front cargo hold and peer into adjacent rooms.

The company defends the search against accusations of grave robbing, maintaining that anything recovered will be preserved for display and not sold. Mr Harris, responding to the criticism of Mrs Dean, said: "We have worked very closely actually with Millvena Dean over the years. She has come to our exhibits, she has come to our openings and we respect her and her family members. Our job is to go out there and preserve history and that is what we do. We should not leave those artefacts down there to be lost for future generations."

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