Battle to bring Titanic treasures home
Campaign to secure huge collection of artefacts
A multi-million pound campaign to "bring home" 5,500 artefacts that sank with the Titanic was launched in Belfast yesterday with the backing of the man who discovered the ship's wreckage.
The Titanic Artefacts project, led by famed oceanographer Dr Robert Ballard, is a combined effort from National Museums Northern Ireland, the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich and Titanic Foundation Limited.
National Geographic is also behind the $20m (£15m) venture and has already pledged $500,000 (£380,000).
Premier Exhibitions, the American company that currently holds the artefacts, has filed for bankruptcy.
The collaborative effort is set to be challenged by a number of competitors, including bidders in China.
If the campaign is successful, many of the artefacts would go on display at Titanic Belfast. There is a fear that if sold privately, the artefacts would be split up.
The collection includes personal jewellery from the 1,503 people who died in the disaster.
It also includes fittings and furniture from the ill-fated liner. The list describes the bronze cherub, from the ship's grand staircase, as the most exceptional item, because it is the "only substantial figural object in the collection". At yesterday's launch, former US Navy officer Dr Ballard, who plans to visit the wreck again next year, urged the people of Northern Ireland to back the campaign.
"I have no doubt that this will be a success", he said.
Titanic's story was brought to the big screen in the year 2000 by film director James Cameron.
In a video statement played at the launch, he said: "The sinking of the Titanic was a heart-breaking moment in history.
"Securing the irreplaceable collection of artefacts - protecting and preserving them for future generations by placing them in the public trust - is a unique and important opportunity to honour the 1,503 passengers and crew who died."
President of the Belfast Titanic Society, Susie Millar, whose great grandfather Thomas Millar was lost in the disaster said: "This would be such an amazing thing to get these artefacts home."
She added: "There's really nowhere else where it belongs."