Is the famous Titanic wreck under threat?

The wreck of the RMS Titanic is probably the most famous shipwreck in the world, lying at a depth of about 12,500 feet about 600km south of Newfoundland. Now the first people to dive down to it in 14 years say that some of what remains is deteriorating rapidly.

A view of the Titanic wreck taken
The Titanic wreck has become vulnerable from sweeping eddies and ever-changing sea currents. Image: Atlantic Productions

The wreck lies in two main pieces about 600m apart, and it landed there after the ship sank in 1912 when it collided with an iceberg during its maiden voyage. It was recently visited for the first time in 14 years by an international team of deep-sea explorers and scientists led by Caladan Oceanic, who surveyed the sunken ship during five submersible dives over eight days in early August 2019. They used specially adapted cameras to capture the wreck in a way it’s never been seen before, and will publish the results alongside a documentary film being made by Atlantic Productions in London.

The wreck of the Titanic underwater
The team used specially adapted cameras to capture the wreck in a way it’s never been seen before. Image: Atlantic Productions

The team found that lying in bitterly cold 1°C water, the wreck has become vulnerable from sweeping eddies and is subjected to ever-changing sea currents. Salt corrosion, metal-eating bacteria and deep current action are having the greatest impact on the wreck. They observed what they describe as a "shocking area of deterioration" in the officers' quarters, where the captain had his rooms. “Captain’s bathtub is a favourite image among the Titanic enthusiasts and that’s now gone," says Parks Stephenson, Titanic historian. "That whole deck hole on that side is collapsing, taking with it the staterooms, and the deterioration is going to continue advancing.”

Autonomous Underwater Vehicles explore the wreck of the Titanic
Autonomous underwater vehicles explore the wreck of the Titanic. Image: Mmdi/Getty Images

While on the site, the team laid a wreath and held a short ceremony in honour of those who lost their lives in 1912. They reckon that the sloping lounge roof of the bow section will probably be the next part to be lost, obscuring views of the ship's interior. According to scientist Lori Johnson, the reason that the deterioration process can progress a bit faster is when a group of bacteria works symbiotically to eat the wreck. “The future of the wreck is going to continue to deteriorate over time," she  says. "It's a natural process."