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Titanic wreck 'will dissolve in 14 years'

By Claire McNeilly

If visiting the wreck of the Titanic is on your to-do list, you'd better get your diving equipment on.

That's because a new scientific study says the hulk of the ill-fated Belfast-built liner will have dissolved completely in 14 years.

Titanic has sat at the bottom of the Atlantic for over a century, preserved by the two-mile depth which helped slow corrosion.

But a recently discovered "extremophile bacteria" will eat away the remains of the hulking ship by 2030, according to a specialist team in the latest issue of Scientific Reports.

The scientists, drawn from the Institut Laue-Langevin, the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry and the Institut de Biologie Structurale, looked at the neutrons in the 'new' bacterium.

And they discovered the organism had developed a startling evolutionary adaptation to cope with harsh surroundings - which is bad news for what remains of the Titanic, which sank after hitting an iceberg on its maiden voyage in April 1912, taking 1,500 people to the bottom of the ocean with it.

"This is the first study that has allowed a direct experimental characterisation of ectoine-water-protein and ectoine-water-membrane structures to explain the mode of action of this very interesting and useful molecule," said Joe Zaccai, spokesperson for the team of scientists.

Deep sea diving to see the Titanic wreck has become commonplace since Robert Ballard and his team discovered it 31 years ago.

The American company which owns the salvage rights to the wreck, Premier Exhibitions, is currently in the process of suing the French government in the hope of winning approval to sell French artefacts recovered from the Titanic.

The Premier group, which filed for bankruptcy in June of this year is hoping a firesale of the artefacts will get the firm out of financial trouble, and had asked for permission to sell a "limited" number of artefacts recovered from its so-called "French collection".

These were hitherto legally declared priceless items for exhibition only, and not for sale, but Premier is hoping to have the ruling overturned.

Its collection of artefacts from the White Star luxury liner, which was built at Harland and Wolff's yard in east Belfast, is broken into two groups: French and American.

And, since 1987, one of Premier's affiliates worked with the French government's oceanographic institute on a joint expedition to recover roughly 2,100 artefacts over the course of 32 dives.

In total, Premier owns about 5,500 artefacts recovered from the bottom of the Atlantic.

It wants to raise $12m to pay off debtors by selling items such as a sapphire ring, a sterling-silver-mesh ladies' evening handbag, and a silver-plated chocolate or syrup pot used in the first-class restaurant.

The company said in court papers filed in Florida last month that the sale would be so minor that it would leave "99.5% of the French collection intact."

Construction of a life-size replica of the Titanic, meanwhile, is now under way in southwest China's Sichuan Province.

More than 1,000 people will be working on the land-locked replica, which will be 270 meters long and 28 meters wide, with a draught of 10 meters - the exact measurements of the original.

Featuring a controversial high-tech simulation which allows tourists to experience the moment the original hit an iceberg, the £138m project is likely to be completed in late 2017.

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