Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Relative's fury over 'ghoulish' Titanic sale

£120m New York auction sparks anger as the families of those who died urge respect for doomed liner’s ‘grave’

A bracelet from the Titanic which was recovered from the ocean floor during an expedition to the site of the tragedy (AP)
The Titanic sank off Newfoundland on her maiden voyage to the United States after striking an iceberg
Pipes and the captain's bathtub are shown in this July 2003 photo, of what remains of the captain's cabin on the Titanic more than two miles underwater in the north Atlantic. Recent research dives to the legendary shipwreck are showing the vessel is deteriorating faster than earlier thought.

The sale of a massive section of the doomed Titanic liner has sparked a transatlantic row.

A 17-ton section of the ill-fated ship is one of thousands of artefacts up for sale in a multi-million pound auction in New York later this year.

Nicknamed ‘The Big Piece’, the massive chunk of metal was pulled from the depths two-and-a-half miles beneath the North Atlantic in 1998.

The steel section, measuring 14ft by 23ft, broke away from the starboard side of the hull as the ship sank after striking an iceberg on April 15, 1912, 370 miles off Newfoundland in Canada.

But Una Reilly, chair of the Belfast Titanic Society, said the raising and sale of the section of hull “is not how we want to remember the ship”.

“I would have preferred it was left for nature, and instead looked upon as a sea grave,” she added.

At the time several Titanic survivors and relatives of victims criticised the decision to raise the massive section of hull, appealing for the wreck to be respected as a grave.

The piece is one of more than 5,000 artefacts up for sale during the auction in April, which has already stirred up a wealth of interest a century after the luxury liner’s ill-fated maiden voyage.

But Susie Millar, whose great-grandfather Thomas Millar helped build the doomed ship before setting sail on its only voyage, said the auction was “absolutely appalling”, adding it was “extremely insensitive” given the centenary commemorations.

“I think it’s appalling and especially the timing — it’s almost like they held this back especially for this,” she added.

“My great-grandfather has a watch down there and every time I hear about a watch for sale I prick my ears. But I don’t own it.”

Included in the vast haul of artefacts is a child’s bracelet with the name Amy spelled out in diamonds. Only two Amys were listed among 2,228 passengers, of whom more than 1,500 died.

RMS Titanic Inc, based in the US, currently oversees the items and is the “official salvor-in-possession”.

“I understand they have paid the money for the salvaging but the whole thing is pretty crass,” Ms Millar added.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, she said she was now concerned that individual and personal items would never be seen again if sold to a private collector.

“For Northern Ireland it’s out of our price range and out of reach,” she added.

“We may or may not see them again.”

The sale on April 11, organised by Guernsey's Auctioneers & Brokers, will feature a range of items including clothing, fine china and gold coins.

The items will be sold as one lot and when last appraised in 2007 were estimated to be worth £120m ($190m).

It is understood the artefacts cannot be sold individually and must go to a buyer who agrees to properly maintain the collection and make it available for occasional public viewing.

But Ms Millar, who owns and operates Titanic Tours Belfast, now wants the hunt for remnants from the sunken ship to finally come to an end.

The Belfast Telegraph contacted Guernsey's Auctioneers & Brokers but nobody was available for comment.

Background

The law of salvage is a concept in maritime law which involves a person recovering another’s ship or cargo — after loss at sea — entitling them to some form of reward, although it does not automatically grant ownership. The Titanic wreck is one of the most contested cases in recent years with the salvors — US firm RMS Titanic Inc — having fought court battles for many years for the right to sell the items on to a new buyer.

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