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US auction house ‘sorry’, but Titanic sale will go ahead

By Patrice Dougan

The auction house that sparked a transatlantic row after putting thousands of Titanic artefacts up for sale has apologised to relatives of victims of the disaster.

Arlan Ettinger, president of Guernsey’s Auctioneers and Brokers in New York, also vowed to work with Northern Ireland organisations who want to bring the items back to the province.

The Titanic auction sparked criticism it was “appalling” and “extremely insensitive”. But speaking from New York, Mr Ettinger said: “On behalf of Guernsey’s we apologise to anyone we offended, it wasn’t our intention.”

He said he wanted to see the collection returned to its place of origin and that one of the first calls he made after it was chosen to hold the auction was to the Northern Ireland Bureau — a Government organisation which develops links between the US and Northern Ireland.

“The reason I called them was to tell them that in our opinion there could be no more fitting home, no more meaningful and poignant a resting place for these objects, than in Northern Ireland, and that we would do everything in our power to assist in the process that could result in that happening,” he said.

“For those who want to see this collection end up in Northern Ireland — get together, get in touch with us and we’ll see what we can do to make it happen.”

Mr Ettinger argued the items which make up the collection were not taken from the ship itself — which is regarded as a grave — but from an area known as the debris field. He added analysis of the hull section in the auction could help scientists understand why the ship sank.

And he has the support of Titanic relative Patrick Toms, founder of the Shannon Ulster Titanic Society, who says he has “no objection” to the auction.

“I totally agree with what they say,” Mr Toms said. “It’s a piece of an old ship which, first of all, doesn’t belong to anybody, and secondly, they have had it on display for years, so what’s the problem?”

Background

This week the Belfast Telegraph reported that an auction of thousands of Titanic artefacts is scheduled to take place just days before the centenary of the ill-fated liner’s sinking. Included in the sale is a 17-ton section of the ship known as ‘The Big Piece. The steel section, measuring 14ft by 23ft, broke away from the starboard side of the hull as the ship sank.

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