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What James Cameron wants to remember from the Titanic

Ocean experts have long argued over whether artifacts from the world’s most famous shipwreck should be salvaged for exhibits that could help people better understand the Titanic tragedy or whether they should be left intact in the depths of the sea as a monument to the more than 1,500 people who lost their lives. their lives. James Cameron, known for his 1997 film “Titanic,” sees himself as negotiating a middle path in this complex and often emotional conflict.

Mr Cameron dove the wreck of the ship 33 times between 1995 and 2005, giving him an idea of ​​its condition and likely fate. His view is timely, as the U.S. government has recently sought to exert control over the wreckage, raising questions about whether a company that has recovered more than 5,500 artifacts will be allowed to collect more.

Mr Cameron’s views are also deeply personal. He often discussed recoveries with Paul-Henri Nargeolet, a French submariner who died in June while descending toward the wreck of the Titan submersible. Mr. Nargeolet also led underwater research for RMS Titanic Inc., the company that holds exclusive rights to salvage the ship and its artifacts.

Mr. Cameron recently responded to email questions from The New York Times about his views on the recovery, future of the Titanic and the Titan submersible. This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Have you seen any signs of natural degradation during your 10 years of diving on the Titanic?

We have seen significant deterioration of thin-walled structures such as the deckhouse (the upper deck above the deck of the boat) and the foremast. It was intact (in its fallen position) in 2001 but partially collapsed in 2005. New imaging by the Magellan Company in 2022 shows it has completely collapsed and opened.

However, we did not see any significant deterioration on the vast majority of the wreck, such as the hull plates. Their steel is an inch and a half thick. I think the plaques will remain standing for at least two more centuries.

What about damage caused by visitors? Something obvious?

From my experience maneuvering around the wreck and landing on it, the submersibles don’t do anything significant. Up top, a submersible weighs several tons, but down there, to fly, it must have neutral buoyancy, meaning it lands with only a few pounds of force.

Furthermore, everything humans do is insignificant compared to the relentless deterioration caused by biological activity, which continues year after year. The Titanic is devoured by living colonies of bacteria. They love it when humans drop giant piles of steel into the depths of the ocean, which we do quite regularly, especially in war. It’s a celebration for them.

Regarding the Titanic artifacts, you describe yourself as a centrist among preservation advocates such as Robert D. Ballard and rescuers like Paul-Henri Nargeolet, who died in June aboard the Titan submersible. How so?

On the one hand, I think it’s good to recover artifacts from the debris field. When the Titanic broke in two on the surface, it became like two large piñatas. For square kilometers we see plates and bottles of wine, suitcases, shoes – objects that people carried with them, touched and wore.

This humanizes the story and reminds us that tragedy has a human face. Many artifacts have been recovered that poignantly connect us to this story, such as the crow’s nest bell that was rung three times by lookout Frederick Fleet when he first spotted the iceberg. Today, millions of museum visitors can see it with their own eyes. I even rang it myself. And there are many examples of the Titanic’s elegance: fine china, pearl chandeliers, the cherub statue on the grand staircase. It is the public’s continued interest in these things that keeps the story alive today, 111 years after the sinking.

One gray area that leaves me torn is whether we should salvage the artifacts inside the front and back sections. One case that I find compelling is that of the recovery of the Marconi set. This wireless system sent the SOS signal that brought the rescue ship Carpathia to the exact coordinates of the Titanic and likely saved the lives of more than 700 people.

The Titanic’s wireless set was unique, very different from others of its time. I flew my tiny remote controlled vehicles inside to inspect the Marconi rooms, so we know where everything is, and performed computer reconstructions.

But displaying this instrument to the public would be very moving for millions of museum visitors. If it could be salvaged without damage to the outward appearance of the wreck I would be in favor as this area of ​​the ship is deteriorating rapidly and within a few years the Marconi set will be buried deep in the ruins, irrecoverable. .

So everything is allowed?

Where I personally draw the line is in changing the appearance of the wreck – like raising its iconic bow (where Jack and Rose stood in the film) or removing the powerful anchors or taking the bronze telemotor from the deck where Quartermasters Hitchens desperately turned the ship. wheel trying to avoid the iceberg. All of these recoveries have been discussed by someone at some point in the last quarter century. I don’t think we should remove anything from the front and rear parts that might disfigure them. They should be monuments to tragedy.

You knew Mr. Nargeolet well. Have you had any disagreements with him and his company’s approach to artifact recovery?

He was a legendary sub-pilot and explorer, and we spent many exciting hours reviewing our Titanic videos and comparing notes. He collected many artifacts, like the crow’s nest bell, that I find so moving from the different exhibitions around the world.

That said, I disagreed with him on some of his plans to salvage things like the bow anchors, although it was always a friendly discussion. I’m glad some of these plans never came to fruition.

Around 2017, you teamed up with Dr Ballard and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, in an unsuccessful attempt to purchase the Titanic collection of artifacts and move them to Belfast, where the ship was built. For what? And would you try again if RMS Titanic declared bankruptcy again?

Our concern at the time was that the collection might have been purchased by a wealthy private collector and disappeared from public view. These artifacts belong to the world, as part of our shared cultural heritage – our collective history – and they help keep that history alive and the tragedy palpable. But only if they can be seen and emotionally felt through public access. If the collection is threatened again, I hope to have a voice in keeping it accessible to the public.

What do you think of the federal government’s recent efforts to exert control over the Titanic?

The Titanic is in international waters. I’m sure this fight will last forever.

Do you think the Titan disaster will have an impact on Titanic visitors?

Do I think this will stop people from wanting to see the Titanic in person? Absolutely not. Human curiosity is a powerful force, and the desire to witness it with one’s own eyes is very strong among some people, myself included.

But citizen explorers need to be more discerning about who they dive with. Is the submarine fully certified by a recognized office? What is the safety operating record of the submersible company? These are the kinds of questions they need to ask.

Would you like to dive again?

I would ride in a submarine tomorrow – if it was certified, like Woods Hole Oceanographic’s famous Alvin submarine, or the submarines built by Triton submersibles. But there is no urgency to do anything. This familiar image of the arch will still be there, as is, for at least half a century.

nytimes Eur

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