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Wreck of Titanic could be put up for sale as owners file for bankruptcy

By Claire McNeilly

For sale: the Titanic. One notvery-careful previous owner, permanently immobile and damaged beyond repair.

Yes, the world’s most famous ship, and the precious treasure recovered from it, could be yours for the right price because the company that owns the remains of the ill-fated Belfast-built liner has gone bust.

Premier Exhibitions Inc possesses the sole salvage rights to the vessel and more than 5,500 artefacts taken from the Titanic, which sank after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage 104 years ago, with the loss of more than 1,500 lives.

A potential fire sale may well include the rights to the wreck, but the troubled Atlanta-based Premier is attempting to avoid giving up its prized assets en masse by petitioning to overturn an American court ruling that it cannot sell individual treasures brought up from the site, which have been valued collectively at around £163m.

The huge haul taken from the floor of the north Atlantic — none of which has ever been offered for sale before — includes a ring with a blue sapphire surrounded by 14 diamonds, a sterling silver mesh ladies’ evening handbag, a steward’s jacket and a silver-plated chocolate or syrup pot used in the first-class restaurant.

The items were recovered via a series of diving expeditions over 30 years since Premier secured the rights to the wreck of the legendary White Star luxury liner. Industry experts said the sale of just a few of the artefacts could raise the £9m the company needs to pay off a number of unsecured creditors.

A statement from Premier’s subsidiary, RMS Titanic Inc, said: “The debtors believe that a limited sale of artefacts, perhaps as few as 10 to 20, from the French Collection recovered from the Titanic would generate enough revenue to pay all of the debtors’ creditors in full, return all of the equity to the debtors’ shareholders and provide working capital for the debtors as they emerge from bankruptcy.”

Some of the French Collection consists of approximately 2,100 artefacts recovered by the company in 1987 during a salvage mission launched in conjunction with the French government’s oceanographic institute.

The remainder of the collection was salvaged during expeditions that began in 1993.

A 2014 appraisal put the total value of the haul at £163.3m, and Premier is arguing that a limited sale would be in the best interests of all stakeholders.

Their statement said: “The debtors regret the debtors’ current financial circumstances, but welcome the opportunity to make every creditor whole, while preserving the investments of the shareholders and providing the debtors a fresh start going forward with 99.5% of the French Collection intact.”

The company, which added that it “recognises and appreciates the historic value” of items recovered from the Harland and Wolff shipyard’s pride and joy, is expected to hear if their motion is successful on July 12.

Items recovered from the Titanic have always sold well. Even a well-preserved cracker biscuit, which had been saved from a lifeboat of the ship, fetched £17,250 at an auction last year. A menu from the liner recently sold for almost £80,000 at an auction in Texas.

It was thought to be the last existing menu of the final dinner served to first-class passengers on the April 1912 night before the New York-bound vessel went down.

According to the menu, the well-off passengers that night tucked into oysters, filet mignon, roast duckling and a host of other delicacies.

Premier’s financial woes are linked to the failure of its much-vaunted Saturday Night Live exhibition in New York. Its Titanic exhibition in Orlando, Florida, has, however, been successful, with more than 100 million visitors in two decades.

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